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October 20, 2018 - Welcome Guest!


Rape Trauma Syndrome
Post-traumatic stress disorder

Please note that for simplicity's sake, the following article was written with grammatical references to female victims. We recognize however, that rape trauma is not exclusive to women and as such, wish to emphasize that the information and advice provided applies to victims and survivors of both genders.

Sexual assault is a crime problem that is increasing in North America. Offenders leave behind women troubled by a range of trauma symptoms, including somatic complaints, sleep disturbance and nightmares, fear, suspiciousness, anxiety, major depression and impairment in social functioning. Some women express their feelings, other women try to control their expression. Far too often, rape victims are further victimized by the society and the justice system. If left unresolved and untreated, the acute trauma may develop into a condition similar to posttraumatic stress disorder.

PTSD is one of the anxiety disorders. Symptoms of PTSD develop in people who have experienced an event that is outside the range of usual human suffering and that would be extremely stressful for nearly anybody. Such an event would impose "a serious harm or threat to one's life or physical integrity, a serious threat to one's children, spouse, or other close relatives or friends." PTSD may develop after seeing sudden destruction of the patient's home or the entire community, or witnessing someone's being killed or injured. (DSM-IV, 1994).

The traumatic events that can trigger PTSD may be classified into several categories. First, the person may experience naturally occurring disaster, such as earthquakes, floods or volcano eruptions. Second, the disorder may be precipitated by tragic accidents, such as air crash, very serious car accident. Third, the stressor can be one of category of manmade catastrophes which may be exemplified by wars, concentration camps and torture. The rape trauma syndrome is a special case of PTSD. in which the rape victim suffers from symptoms caused by the experience of sexual assault (DSM-IV, 1994).

The symptoms are similar for all types of PTSD. Obviously, not all patients who suffer from PTSD experience all the symptoms. Also, the symptoms vary slightly according to the precipitating trauma. The DSM-IV (1994) states these symptoms:

1. recurrent, persistent and distressing reexperiencing of the trauma through distressing recollections, dreams, sudden acting and feeling as if the event was reoccurring (reliving the trauma, illusions, hallucinations, flashbacks);
2. persistent avoidance of stimuli that remind of the trauma, for example, the patient avoids thoughts and feelings associated with the trauma, or he/she may avoid situations and activities that arouse the traumatic recollections;
3. psychogenic amnesia;
4. numbing of general responsiveness (that was not present before the trauma occurred), for example, the patients show markedly diminished interest in significant activities; they may feel detachment or estrangement from others; their range of affect may be restricted or they may have sense of a foreshortened future;
5. persistent symptoms of increased arousal, which involve irritability and outburst of anger, troubled concentrating, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response; they show physiological reaction to events or situations that symbolize or resemble the trauma;
6. the disturbance causes significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important area of functioning;
7. patient has to experience symptoms for at least one month before PTSD may be diagnosed.
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