Trauma Syndrome / PTSD
Rape is the only type of
crime that reliably predicts
development of a psychological disorder (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
or Rape Trauma Syndrome); 57% of all completed rape survivors develop
RTS, and 16.5% still have RTS 17 years after the rape. For
information about common feelings experienced
by rape survivors, click
I think the feelings are more
intense now than they
were at first. I was on the trolley and two guys came and sat down
across from me. They looked like the two that raped me. I could almost
feel like I was being grabbed again. I just have to keep thinking
intellectually that it isn’t going to happen. I know intellectually it
won’t, but my gut reaction is so intense…I feel people are following
me. I still look at every car that goes by even though I know the guys
are locked up. Sometimes it gets so intense…it seems worse than it ever
-Rape Survivor; age 21
Three months following the rape
of Rape Trauma
Syndrome: Symptoms the rape survivor
experiences that are both mental (emotional) and physical. The rape
survivor will experience symptoms of physically reliving the rape, fear
of seeing the assailant, fear of another attack, sleep disturbances,
nightmares, fear, suspiciousness, anxiety, major depression, and
impairment in social functions.
Rape Trauma Syndrome has three stages:
A. Impact Stage
B. Acute Stage
C. Resolution Stage
The impact stage is the initial stage most survivors
experience. The survivor may appear dazed, in a state of un-reality and
struggling to comprehend the rape. There is a wide range of symptoms
that rape survivors express during this time: from calm and controlling
to hysterical and crying. Often the survivor will make comments like,
“I can’t believe this happened to me” or some other shock-type of
statement which disclaims the actuality of the traumatic event. The
victim is realizing that their lifestyle has been completely disrupted.
The most common reactions of this stage are:
Shock: The person appears to be on automatic pilot and may act
as like they normally do. If this response does not work, then crisis
Denial: The person may refuse or avoid talking about the
incident, or even try not to think about it. The person wants to forget
what happened. This is usually a short-lived response.
Rationalization: Involves a lot of talking and repeating the
same things over and over, often may appear to be void of emotions. It
is usually a verbal processing of thoughts. A person might ask a lot
of, “What if…” and “Why didn’t I…” questions.
During these first few days, the survivor may be concerned
with decisions regarding medical care, police involvement, physical
security, etc. He/She will probably be concerned with how significant
others will respond to the assault. The survivor may still feel a loss
of control. Sometimes signs of depression will serve to mask other
This stage generally lasts 4-8 weeks after the assault.
During this stage, the survivor’s usual coping mechanisms have failed
and a struggle to regain control is occurring. Some of the symptoms of
Rape Trauma Syndrome during this acute state could include:
Fatigue, soreness, pain, etc. Some are real and some are psychosomatic.
Sleep pattern disturbances are common. The survivor usually has trouble
sleeping or restless nights when they wake and cannot go back to sleep.
Some will have nightmares and wake up screaming, etc. Eating pattern
disturbances can include decreases appetite, nausea and vomiting or
stomach pains. Symptoms specific to the attack could be the mouth and
throat irritation caused by oral sex, vaginal discharge, bleeding,
pain, swelling, etc., caused by anal sex.
Primary symptoms include fear of death, injury, mutilation, etc. The
survivor feels a combination of “thankful to be alive” and “fear of
death” which is related to a loss of control. Shame, guilt, and anger
are also symptoms that may be occurring.
Survivors will often try to suppress thoughts of the attack. Often when
this approach is used the survivor suffers from flashbacks and
nightmares. Most go through a rationalization process throughout the
duration of syndrome- “What if..”, “If I had only…”, and “Why did this
happen to me?”
At the end of 8 weeks, the crisis should be mostly resolved.
However, the crisis may reoccur when certain triggers appear and remind
the survivor of the assault. For example, testifying in court, seeing a
person who resembles the rapist, or having to go for a HIV, pregnancy
test, etc. can trigger a crisis response. There may continue to be a
disruption in the survivor’s life. However, if symptoms continue, or
get worse, a referral for professional help may be needed.