Sexual assault is a crime problem that is increasing in North America. It is the most common trauma that is likely to produce symptoms similar to those of PTSD. Ellis (1983) suggests that there are three sequences in reaction to rape: a short-term, intermediate and long-term reaction. Short-term reaction is characterized by a range of traumatic symptoms, such as somatic complaints, sleep disturbance and nightmares, fear, suspiciousness, anxiety, major depression and impairment in social functioning. Rosenhan and Seligman (1989) claim that the crisis immediately following the rape is affected by the emotional style of the victim. Some women express their feelings, showing fear, anxiety; they often cry and are tense. Other women try to control their expression, mask their feelings and they attempt to look calm.
Symptoms remain relatively stable after 2 or 3 months. Three months to 1 year post-assault, in intermediate phase, the diffuse anxiety usually becomes rape-specific. Women then experience depression, social and sexual dysfunction. The long-term reaction, 1 year following the assault, involves anger, hypervigilance to danger, sexual dysfunction and diminished capacity to enjoy life (Ellis, 1983). According to the descriptive study, conducted by Renner et al. (1988), only 10% of rape victims do not show any disruption of their behavior following the assault. The behavior of 55% of them is moderately affected and 35% of the victims are unable to continue their lives without very severe impairment. Several months down the road after the assault, 45% of women are able to readjust themselves; however, 55% of the victims suffer from lasting effects.
It may be inferred that more than half of rape victims show some level of rape trauma. Depression and social adjustment usually improve within several months following the trauma. On the other hand, fear, anxiety, reliving the trauma, sleep disturbances, nightmares, avoidance of the stimuli reminiscent of the assault, these are the symptoms that persist in many victims for years, if not forever. The victims also have problems in relationships with significant others and authority; their work satisfaction is lower than that of controls and their hope for future is negatively affected. In addition, their self-esteem is lower than in other women even 2 years post-assault. (Murphy et al., 1988)