The Aftermath of Rape
By Nanditha Lakshmanan, contributing writer
Most people view Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as something that is solely caused by war. However, few people understand that PTSD, which many view as the result of bombings and bloodshed, can also be the result of rape. Many do not understand that for victims of rape, war is wrought within themselves after their trauma.
There are some symptoms that are common in all PTSD patients. These include extreme feelings of fear and helplessness, flashbacks to the event, avoidance of triggers (things that may cause one to voluntarily or involuntarily think back to their trauma), social impairment in some form, and paranoia. In order to be diagnosed as PTSD, symptoms must last at least a month. Men and women who experience PTSD as a result of rape may additionally experience reoccurring nightmares of the event, avoid being touched, lose trust in loved ones (especially significant others), feel deep shame, and self-blame for the rape’s occurrence.
If you have a loved one who has experienced rape or sexual assault, there are some things you need to be aware of as you attempt to help them heal.
The paranoia will be extreme. He or she may adopt violence and rage as a defense mechanism because his or her body feels that that will help prevent further assaults. The person may be afraid to sleep because that is a time when one is vulnerable; if he or she used to share a bed with you, the person may no longer be willing to. Your loved one may have trouble going about their daily routines like he or she used to because he or she is worried something will go wrong along the way.
The person may no longer be comfortable being around you. Obviously you would never wish harm on your loved one. But the trauma causes the view of reality to be darkened. Do not be too upset, and certainly do not retaliate, if he or she is no longer willing to have physical contact, if he or she speaks to you less, or if he or she takes his or her emotions out on you. It may be difficult to see the state that your loved one is in, but understand that the pain is much greater. Even when things get difficult, do not allow your loved one to feel isolated.
Recovery will not occur overnight, and the rate of recovery is different for everyone. Don’t expect the victim to forget the trauma easily. And DO NOT ask your loved one to “just forget about it.” It is never that easy.
Whether you yourself have been raped or sexually assaulted or you know someone who has, you do not have to act alone. NJIT has a Center for Counseling and Psychological Services. You can go to Campbell Hall, room 205 during regular business hours for an appointment. If you do not feel comfortable meeting in person, you can call 973-596-3414 to speak with a psychologist.