Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: It is Time to Talk About Rape…For the Victims

Whenever the topic of rape comes to the forefront and is central to political contention, those who have suffered watch and wait. They wait to see if the reality and consequences of this horrendous crime will get lost in the details.  They wait to see if the victims will get lost in the details.

In this case, the question raised is whether “legitimate rape” physically precludes the likelihood of a pregnancy.

Notwithstanding the important verbalized medical opinions asserting no solid evidence of reduced pregnancy after rape, the implication for the pregnant rape victim is emotionally and physically dangerous. In addition to whatever care she needs, what she does not need is to question the legitimacy of being raped! No one does.

Rape is a violent crime that brutally assaults the victim’s core self, both physically and psychologically. Research tells us that nearly one in five women has been a victim of rape or attempted rape and one in 71 men reports having been raped or the target of attempted rape.

In reality, it is likely that such numbers under-represent those who have suffered, as men and boys tend not to report being raped and ¾ of all rapes are committed by a known person. That often equates to silent pain and anguish with no one held accountable.

 The Resistance To Recognizing and Responding to Rape

Society both acknowledges and denies rape. Rape threatens social mores and demands empathy with victims.  Accordingly, rape is a crime, but it is one that has been obscured by legal definition, stereotype, gender bias and media hype.

Callie Rennison, a criminologist notes, “Rape is the only crime in which victims have to explain that they didn’t want to be victimized.”

Juries continue to look for an injury as evidence that sex was not consensual, although, rape experts report that there are injuries in fewer than half the attacks.

Until a new definition to rape was offered, the only role for men in the rape stereotype was as the perpetrator. Too many boys and men carried the traumatic memories of abuse into adulthood with great confusion and secrecy.

Exacerbation of The Rape Victim’s Fear and Pain

Historically, society’s reaction to rape has exacerbated many of the traumatic responses common to rape. Too often those in authority directly or indirectly silenced victims and confirmed their worst fears of blame and re-victimization.

  • In the aftermath of rape, victims often experience an annihilation of the ownership of self.  They are so overwhelmed that they can’t make meaning of what has happened. Sometimes they are too young to have the words; they only have the terror. Often they assume they are alone – and in many ways they are.
  • Often despite age or gender the victims have no words because they can not verbalize what is too horrific to comprehend. – What can you say?
  • Having experienced sexual violation and exposure, rape victims often feel enormous shame, self-doubt and misconstrued self-blame. This makes reporting very difficult and unlikely.  Most women will tell a friend before she will tell a family member. Most men keep it to themselves.
  • The reality of reporting a rape or disclosing the details brings with it the fear of reliving the nightmare, of further exposure, of retaliation- of feeling damaged.

But Voices Can Be Heard …Society Has Started to Respond

Recently, the federal government provided a new the definition of rape that includes men as victims of rape and recognizes nonconsensual sex that does not involve physical force as rape. This protects and recognizes rape in cases where people are unable to grant consent because they are drugged, very drunk or younger than the age of statutory consent in their state. This validates date rape.

Thanks to caregivers who will not stop giving voice or providing help, there are increasing places for a rape victim to call as the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE) to get help, to find a Rape Crisis Center or emergency room within 24 hours, to receive medical care, counseling and help with gathering forensic evidence — whether or not she/he ever chooses to pursue legal action.

The increasing response to sexual scandals and the courage of male victims to step forward to disclose their story validates the reality and helps so many others “make meaning” and seek support and help.

Programs for teens in schools like “Just Yell Fire,” books like The Rape Recovery Handbook,  and websites like “Dealing with Rape,” re-enforce the entitlement to be safe and the message that nothing justifies rape!

The Societal Response to A Traumatic Event Makes a Difference in Recovery.

Rape is back in the media this week. Is it possible that beyond the political goals and issues, we might take this time to recognize and respond to the reality of the crime, the implication for victims, the pain endured, the silence maintained and the recovery possible when survivors are supported? It is what we know we must do.