Rape: healing is possible
Stranger rape is non-consensual, and/or forced sex,
with a woman or man who does not know her/his attacker. The definition
of stranger rape is more readily accepted than acquaintance
rape. The lack of acceptance that acquaintance rape receives
does not limit the shame attached to rape or the trauma
felt by the survivor. Ironically, stranger rape is seen as "real
rape". The image of the psychotic stranger attacking the
woman is real and does occur. However, the frequency of psychotic
stranger rape is considerably less.
The majority of rapists usually target the victim from afar,
seeing her in a parking lot or walking in the neighborhood. His
access to her is assured and he calculates his attack. The calculation
may be instantaneous or it may take place over a period of time.
Some rape survivors have later remembered seeing the rapist, but
did not suspect they were being targeted. While stranger rape
is reprehensible, the road to recovery is easier than for the
date/acquaintance rape survivor. This is so because with date/acquaintance
rape, there has been the ultimate in betrayal: the individual's
sense of trust of men is shattered and her ability to trust her
own judgment of people has been shattered.
This statement is not to devalue and belittle the experience
of stranger rape. Rather, it is meant to legitimize all experiences
of rape. It is hoped that survivors of rape will be met with understanding
and awareness and that professionals will recognize possible differences
in experience when responding to survivors of stranger and acquaintance
Acquaintance rape is sexual assault
that is committed by someone whom the victim knows: aclassmate,
neighbor, friend, date, co-worker or even a husband or boyfriend.
In legislation, the word rape is no longer used and has
been broadened to sexual assault. Sexual assault is any
form of sexual activity (e.g., kissing, fondling, intercourse,
etc.) that is forced upon a person, without his or her consent.
This includes a wide spectrum of acts, from simple unwanted sexual
touching to a violent sexual attack, and it applies equally to
both a stranger and to someone who is known by the victim. Essentially,
all sexual activity that occurs against a person's will is sexual
Acquaintance rape is the most underreported form of sexual assault.
More than two-thirds of reported sexual assaults occur within
a dating relationship. Women are reluctant to report this because
society believes that a woman who was attacked by someone she
knew must have somehow "asked for it". Men's reluctance
to report unwanted sexual touching is rooted in a fear of ridicule
for actually not wanting to have sexual contact with a woman,
or, in the case of male-male contact, of being labeled homosexual.
It does not matter who the assailants and victims are any more
than it matters what their genders are; any unwanted
sexual touching is a criminal offense.
Danger signs in a relationship
While it is difficult to accept acquaintance rape, it is true
that in the majority of sexual assaults, the victim knows the
attacker. This is why it is important to identify the people who
are potential "acquaintance rapists". Be appropriately
suspicious of people who:
- seldom listen to you, ignore or talk over you
- insult you or put down and belittle your statements
- sulk or get angry if you initiate your desires or ideas
- look right through you or down on you
- control your life by telling you who your friends can be,
by telling you how to dress, and by insisting on making decisions
- talk negatively about women or men in general
- are jealous or possessive
- drink heavily or use drugs
- express anger and violence toward women or men either through
words or physical means
- are unable to handle sexual and emotional frustrations without
- have a fascination with weapons
- talk about or act out cruelty to animals, children, or people
whom they can bully
- use come-on lines to get you into bed: "If you loved
me, you would", "Don't you like me?","I'll
kill myself if you break up with me", "You turned
me on, so now you have to follow though", or "You
know you really want it!"
The effect of rape on one's sex life
The aftereffects with respect to the
survivor's sexuality are immediate. The survivor has the surreal
sense that his/her body does not belong to him/her, because his/her
body is the ground on which this insidious battle took place.
Touch is no longer experienced as affection, but as a violation.
Touch ceases to create a bond or reassurance or soothing; it hurts
and confuses. Sex now feels as dirty as the act of rape felt.
A survivor may sometimes have a strong aversion to (or need for)
particular sex acts. She may feel betrayed by her body, have trouble
integrating sexuality and emotionality, and experience confusion
or overlapping of affection, sex, dominance, aggression and violence.
She may have a strong urge to express sexuality through pursuing
power in the sexual arena. She may act out sexually through self-abuse
and manipulation or abuse of others. She may act compulsively
"seductive" or compulsively asexual, believing she must
be a sexual aggressor or that she cannot be. She may seem impersonal
or promiscuous. Because of the seeming incongruity of sex and
caring, she may have sex with strangers concurrent with her inability
to have sex in intimate relationships.
Some survivors may become prostitutes, strippers, sex symbols,
or porn actress, acting out sexually to release anger or to satisfy
their need for revenge. Others may experience sexaholism, avoidance,
shutdown, or crying after orgasm. All pursuit feels like violation.
Still others may sexualize meaningful relationships, respond erotically
to abuse or anger, or fantasize about dominance or rape.
Rape survivor recovery needs
Even though the emotional impact of rape might not surface for
days or weeks, the survivor needs immediate attention from family,
friends, and professionals. The survivor needs you to:
- Believe her without question and without blame. Whatever the
circumstance, she did not want to be raped.
- Respect her fear. Rapists commonly threaten to kill their
victim if she does not comply with all their demands. Although,
rationally the survivor knows she is safe from the perpetrator,
the fear remains long after the rape.
- Accept her strong feelings and mood peaks and valleys.
- Listen without judgment or without giving advice.
- Care about and nurture the survivor. Encourage her to resume
her decision-making responsibilities to regain control over
Signs that a survivor needs professional help include:
It is important to know that healing from rape is possible. Engaging
with a specialist who provides healing in mind, body, and spirit
will create an effective healing process.
About the Author:
Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, author of If
I'd Only Known... Sexual Abuse in or out of the Family: A Guide
specializes in mind-body-spirit healing and physical/sexual
abuse prevention and recovery. As an inspirational leader and
holistic healer, Dr. Neddermeyer empowers people to view life's
challenges as an opportunity for personal/professional growth
and spiritual awakening.