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EFFECTS OF DATE RAPE
A month after the party, Hannah continued to feel extremely anxious. What made matters worse is that Chris was in several of her classes so she saw him regularly. He actually went out of his way to smile at her and chat with her as if nothing happened. When she was in his class, she would “check out.” Her mind would wander and at one point, she was sitting in her class and missed the entire lecture. The only thing that brought her back to the room was the moment people began getting out of their seats and leaving.
Hannah became very depressed and couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened. She continued to have flashbacks to that night and her body felt like it was happening again. Her anxiety was out of control. She was barely able to concentrate on her school work and her grades were dropping rapidly. She had dropped out of her sorority using the excuse that she had to focus more on school. In reality, she felt she could not trust them as she thought on some level that they knew what happened. In addition, she was embarrassed because she was sure that Chris had told his fraternity brothers that he had sex with her. Hannah assumed that her sorority sisters knew what had happened and now considered herself to be a “slut.”
After another month, Hannah’s anxiety was so bad that she dropped out of school. Reality was that in addition to the poor grades, it was too much for her to walk by the fraternity house and see Chris on a regular basis. After she left school, she never talked to her sorority sisters again.
The effects of date rape include a broad range of symptoms including leaving the survivor feeling “tainted” or “bad” in some way. As in Hannah’s case, she felt dirty and assumed everyone thought she was a “slut.” Rape hits survivors at their core and instills a belief that they are somehow to blame. They feel as if the rape had something to do with their own behaviors. Without putting the responsibility on the assailant, survivors continue to blame themselves.
One symptom in particular is shaken trust. Having known their assailant, many survivors have great difficulty with trusting others. Survivors feel “on guard” with acquaintances they once trusted.
In addition to trust issues, rape survivors are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression. For many, depression goes untreated or undertreated for years. Because depression is somewhat a common condition, survivors may not make the correlation between the assault and their feelings afterwards. This depression can manifest for years until the survivor is adequately treated for both the depression and the rape.
Survivors are 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can be recognized with three different categories of symptoms. It starts with intrusive symptoms. Intrusive symptoms literally “intrude” a survivor’s life. Survivors are often reminded of the rape when they don’t intend to think about it. Some say the memories come “out of the blue.” Intrusive symptoms may take the form of flashbacks, dreams, smells, or other bodily sensations.
These intrusive symptoms produce a great deal of anxiety as survivors never know when the next flashback or sensation will occur. This anticipation and discomfort leads to arousal symptoms. These symptoms keep the survivor in a continuous state of high alert for potential danger. Hypervigilence is fueled by the feeling that the world is not safe both externally and internally. Survivor’s bodies often respond to reminders of the rape as if it is happening in the present. This is to ensure that the acts or feelings associated with the rape alert the survivor of danger. Survivors may know in their “mind” that the rape was in the past, but the body, having no sense of time, responds as if it is happening in the present.
This heightened state of arousal leads to avoidance symptoms. In Hannah’s case, she “checked out” when reminded of the rape. This is known as dissociation. Survivors go to great lengths to protect themselves against flashbacks and other intrusive symptoms. For some, withdrawing all together is the only means of escape.
Maggie had the idea that she had been raped but still blamed herself for drinking too much. She was afraid to tell anyone because she thought they too would blame her for what happened. Maggie had always been a light drinker but soon after the rape, she began drinking a few glasses of wine at night just to “wind down” and to sleep without having nightmares.
Alcohol helped reduce her anxiety. This anxiety, however, would not subside. A month later she went to a psychiatrist who said that she probably had an anxiety disorder and prescribed her Xanax (a prescriptions to help her relax). Maggie didn’t tell the psychiatrist that she was drinking or about the rape. Soon after seeing the psychiatrist, she began abusing the Xanax and drinking.
Maggie only drank wine since mixed drinks created flashbacks to that night she was with George. It wasn’t long before she developed an addiction which progressed quickly. She was drinking numerous drinks at night and it was getting to the point where she was drinking earlier in the day. She was missing work constantly and often stayed in bed all day taking four Xanax instead of the prescribed two. When she was extremely intoxicated, she even contemplated ending her life.
One way survivors try and avoid symptoms is by drinking or taking drugs. Survivors are13 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs. They may find that drugs and alcohol are an escape from symptoms associated with the rape. It may be the one thing that allows them to relax. This misuse of substances often leads to addiction.
A world full of fear and feelings of being unsafe may cause survivors to contemplate ending their life. Survivors are 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide. Suicide may seem the only way to escape the symptoms of PTSD, alcohol/drug dependence, or other symptoms associated with rape. In addition, some survivors experience “passive suicidality.” For example, individuals may not necessarily want to die, but may welcome an accident or something else that would put them out of their misery.
Next installment – Recovering from rape…
Amy Menna has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and Certified Addictions Professional. She has over 10 years of experience treating survivors of sexual assault and has published on the topic of Rape Trauma Syndrome, resiliency, and childhood sexual abuse. She is in private practice and lives in Tampa, Florida. She is available by email firstname.lastname@example.org
Gift From Within, (www.giftfromwithin.org) is a non-profit organization dedicated to those who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), those at risk for PTSD, and those who care for traumatized individuals.
The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. To contribute to ‘Professional Perspective’ contact Michele.
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