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Resources for Victims of Rape

  • A woman is raped every 45 seconds in the United States.

  • One in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by age 16.

  • One out of every two women will become a victim of sexual abuse in her lifetime.

These sobering figures were supplied by the Violence and Traumatic Stress Research Branch, Division of Applied and Services Research, National Institute of Mental Health.

FBI statistics confirm that rape is the fastest growing crime in the United States — yet it remains one of the most underreported.

There is no easy explanation as to why rape occurs. Unfortunately, the latest national data continues to show that the reporting rate for rape remains at a low 16 percent (National Victims Center, 1992).

Due to the complexity of the crime, it is impossible to adequately explain rape with one simple statement. However, we shall try to define this devastating and traumatic event:

  • Rape is any sexual activity that is attempted or completed by force, threat of force, or coercion against another person’s will. Men, as well as women, can be violated and it is not a crime that necessarily strikes any one group of victims.

    The person does not consent if he or she cannot reasonably choose to consent or refuse because of age, circumstances, level of understanding or dependency/relationship to the offender. Young and old, black and white – anyone can be raped.

  • Nobody has the right to demand physical or sexual favors from another person without their consent, regardless of their relationship to them. Rape exploits one person in order to meet another person’s sexual or emotional desires.

  • Psychologically, it devastates its victims. Economically, it’s extremely costly in terms of physical and mental health care, as well as lost time from work or school.

    Victims of sexual assault often experience fear, anxiety, depression, difficulty in sexual relationships and many other psychological and physical symptoms.

  • Rape, and the issues of shame and silence surrounding it, are not new: The story of Tamar, who was violated by her half-brother Amnon, is described in 2 Samuel 13:11-12, 14 and 20. When her brother Absalom learned of this incident, he told her to keep silent and she remained a “desolate woman in his house.”

Many misconceptions about rape exist, and the following are just a few of them: (Note: Since research shows that the majority of violent sexual acts are committed against women, and for the sake of brevity, we will use feminine pronouns when referring to the victims of rape. However, it should be remembered that either gender can be a perpetrator or victim).

Myth #1: Rape is an expression of intense sexual desire.

Rape is an expression of violence, not sexual desire. It is motivated by the need to dominate, control and degrade the victim. This act of aggression is often triggered by feelings of anger or violence.

Some rapists punish their victims out of a need to release pent-up anger or frustration. Others have deep feelings of inadequacy that are relieved by their ability to control and dominate another person. This display of aggression is due to low self-concept, doubts about masculinity, feelings of social distance or general unhappiness. In reality, many rapists state that during the rape they felt no sense of sexual stimulation or arousal.

Myth #2: Rape always occurs spontaneously.

The act of rape is almost always carefully premeditated and executed. In the majority of cases, the rapists acquaint themselves with their intended victims before they actually attack.

Rapes committed by men who are known to the victim may account for well over 50 percent of all rapes. Rapes are not committed by lonely men looking for affection and temporary closeness. And because they are planned, rape almost always includes the use of force or threat of harm and often the use of deadly weapons.

The victim of date or acquaintance rape commonly experiences extreme guilt, as she feels her behavior somehow contributed to the rape. Often victims feel partially responsible for the assault because they trusted the assailant or dressed seductively.

She may hesitate to report the incident if there are a number of mutual friends because of embarrassment or shame over potential public exposure and the resulting stigma.

Myth #3: Some women secretly desire or invite rape.

The act of rape is a horrifying and life-threatening experience. No woman wants to be used against her will. And when rape occurs, the victim’s sense of self, as well as her body, is penetrated and used without consent.

In the same category as homicide, rape is the most profound violation of a person’s body. It deprives the victim of both physical and emotional privacy and autonomy.

Myth #4: Some women deserve to be raped.

In actuality, physical appearance or actions have little to do with who gets raped. Infants, elderly women and females of all incomes and living arrangements can be raped. No one deserves to be raped.

This thinking shifts the blame from the attacker to the victim, faulting her for her dress, behavior or whereabouts. Victims of non-sexual assault are not subjected to such attitudes, and neither should rape victims.

Myth #5: A woman is raped because “she asked for it” by being careless.

A woman who goes out alone or after dark is not “asking” to be raped. Everyone should take precautions to avoid being victimized. However, some women are raped in their own home. Open areas in daylight or automobiles are also common places for rapes to occur.

No woman is responsible for the behavior of a rapist merely because she happens to be in a particular place at a given time or with a certain person.

Myth #6: All rapists are big, mean and tough.

There are no obvious features that would make a rapist stand out in a crowd. It could be your neighbor, a repairman or a door-to-door salesman. Rapists may be nicely dressed, masquerade in disguises (including a policeman’s uniform) or pose as a woman.

On a “Focus on the Family” broadcast, one woman told how she was raped when her car wouldn’t start in a shopping mall parking lot. A handsome, “helpful” man approached her in broad daylight and offered assistance.

After looking under her hood, he came around to the driver’s side of the car, pulled a gun and raped her. It was later discovered that he had previously disabled the car and was waiting for her to return from shopping.

What to Do if Someone You Know is Raped

If you are in a position of trust and are able to offer assistance to the victim of a recently committed rape, we suggest that the following steps be taken without delay:

Be supportive.

Many women will not seek help because they fear that no one will believe them. A victim of sexual assault should be treated with dignity and respect. Non-judgmental belief in her at this time is crucial. Focusing on the facts as reported by the victim, and recording them completely, can be very reassuring to her. In the rare instances where false accusations of rape are made, nothing will be lost by a supportive attitude. In all other cases, doubting her credibility can devastate the victim.

Encourage her to seek medical assistance.

Medical treatment is usually a victim’s most urgent need. Even if a woman is reluctant to undergo a medical examination for the purposes of reporting or prosecuting the rapist, she should be treated for sexually transmitted diseases.

Additionally, the victim may be in shock and not realize an injury has occurred. It is estimated that only one in five cases are reported. Although this estimate cannot be verified, rape crisis counselors note that many women do not report rape to the police or go to a hospital for treatment.

Valid reasons for the reluctance to report assaults include judgmental treatment by medical and legal authorities, humiliation, and secondary victimization. A medical examination is in the woman’s best interest, since it is the only way to establish the case against the offender and provide data for possible legal use.

The emergency room staff and treating physician should respond to the rape victim with sympathy and concern. The doctor must demonstrate a caring approach and a positive attitude, as well as understand the additional stress experienced when meeting with the police and various medical personnel.

Encourage her to seek medical counseling.

A rape victim should be encouraged to exercise control over every area of her life as soon as she is able. Overcoming the victimization she has experienced is facilitated by determining her needs and making decisions about how they should be met.

Victims of sexual assault are apt to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts and attempts — even months after the attack. With this in mind, every attempt should be made to encourage crisis intervention with trained counselors and social workers who are committed Christians.

Family members and her “significant others” should not try to deal with the rape in isolation. They must be willing to accept Christian counseling treatment to assist in the victim’s total recovery. A family member’s willingness to participate in counseling can profoundly affect the healing process for them, as well as for the victim.

Provide unconditional support and comfort.

The success of the victim’s recovery depends heavily upon the attitudes of those who are important in her life. The fear of being alone is common after an assault. Friends can help by making sure she is not left alone during the days, sometimes weeks, following the rape.

Provide her with a sense of protection while also reinforcing that the rape was not her fault. Many victims blame themselves — focusing on how they might have been able to prevent the rape. Remind her that the rapist is to blame, not her. And, most importantly, provide reassurances of love and care.

In the period following a rape, the victim may experience a loss of self-esteem, a change in self-perception and/or decreased ability to function or make responsible decisions. She will be filled with false beliefs, such as “Why did God fail me?” or “Trusting people is dangerous.” The best way to understand what she is feeling is to recall a situation where you felt powerless and afraid. At this vulnerable time, the rape victim needs a lot of attention to break down her feelings of alienation. Encourage her to communicate feelings and discuss what bothers her the most. Let her lead the conversation and allow her to reveal only as much as she is comfortable sharing.

Your willingness to be helpful, a good listener and an understanding companion is the most practical assistance you can offer. The trauma experienced by the rape victim will be less intense if the relationships that she has with her friends and family are secure and fundamentally sound.

Be patient. The recovery process will take time.

If the victim has obtained good Christian counseling, recent statistics on trauma recovery suggest that after the victim has been allowed to grieve, progression toward an assertive “I can recover” stance is productive. A common response from a victim, even months after the experience, is a disinterest in normal social and dating situations. If married, the victim will appreciate her partner’s patience in her need to determine when to resume a regular sexual relationship. It is important to stay in therapy until such integration is reestablished and the ability to maintain feelings of intimacy and normality return.

    Taken from an information sheet prepared by Focus on the Family. To read this information sheet in its entirety, you may request it by calling (800) A-FAMILY and ask for item code FX297.

    Copyright © 2005 Focus on the Family All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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