Effects and aftermath of rape

This article deals primarily with the female victims of male-on-female rape, and until such time as research into other variants added e.g. male-on-male, female-on-female, female-on-male. For male-on-female rape: The effects and aftermath of rape can include both physical trauma and psychological trauma. However, physical force is not necessarily used in rape, and physical injuries are not always a consequence. Deaths associated with rape are known to occur, though the prevalence of fatalities varies considerably across the world. For rape victims the more common consequences of sexual violence are those related to reproductive health, mental health, and social wellbeing.

Male-on-female rape

Physical Impact


Common consequences experienced by rape survivors include:[1][2]


Main article: Pregnancy from rape

Sexually transmitted diseases

Further information: Sexually transmitted disease

Violent or forced sex can increase the risk of transmitting HIV.[15]

Research on women in shelters has shown that women who experience both sexual and physical abuse from intimate partners are significantly more likely to have had sexually transmitted diseases.[16]

Psychological impact

Main article: Rape trauma syndrome


Further information: Blame § Self-blame

Self-blame is among the most common of both short- and long-term effects and functions as an avoidance coping skill that inhibits the healing process and can often be remedied by a cognitive therapy technique known as cognitive restructuring.

There are two main types of self-blame: behavioral self-blame (undeserved blame based on actions) and characterological self-blame (undeserved blame based on character). Survivors who experience behavioral self-blame feel that they should have done something differently, and therefore feel at fault. Survivors who experience characterological self-blame feel there is something inherently wrong with them which has caused them to deserve to be assaulted.

A girl or woman who has been raped may seek consolation from people among her personal support system. However, such people are not always the best to provide this support; in an effort to shield themselves from believing that such a thing could happen to a loved one, they may speculate as to why the event occurred and may decide that – though not deserving to be raped – the person seeking support had put herself in a bad situation, which does not help recovery. The survivor will often already internally blame themselves, especially because the violation of boundaries, broken trust, and the feeling of personal danger occurs with rape. If the support system they look to for support is a partner or spouse, some may be unwilling to accept reality and they may leave or blame the survivor. In that situation, it is even more important to be able to find support in others.

Most rape survivors cannot be reassured enough that what happened to them is "not their fault." This helps them fight through shame and feel safe, secure, and grieve in a healthy way. In most cases, a length of time, and often therapy, is necessary to allow the survivor and people close to the survivor to process and heal.

A leading researcher on the psychological causes and effects of shame, June Tangney, lists five ways shame can be destructive:[17]

Tangney notes the link of shame and anger. "In day-to-day life, when people are shamed and angry they tend to be motivated to get back at a person and get revenge."

In addition, shame is connected to psychological problems – such as eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders as well as problematic moral behavior. In one study over several years, shame-prone children were also prone to substance abuse, earlier sexual activity, less safe sexual activity, and involvement with the criminal justice system.[17]

Behavioral self-blame is associated with feelings of guilt within the survivor. While the belief that one had control during the assault (past control) is associated with greater psychological distress, the belief that one has more control during the recovery process (present control) is associated with less distress, less withdrawal, and more cognitive reprocessing.[18]

Counseling responses found helpful in reducing self-blame are supportive responses, psychoeducational responses (learning about rape trauma syndrome) and those responses addressing the issue of blame.[19] A helpful type of therapy for self-blame is cognitive restructuring or cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive reprocessing is the process of taking the facts and forming a logical conclusion from them that is less influenced by shame or guilt.[20]


Childhood and adulthood victims of rape are more likely to attempt or commit suicide.[21][22][23] The association remains, even after controlling for sex, age, education, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and the presence of psychiatric disorders.[24][25][26] The experience of being raped can lead to suicidal behavior as early as adolescence. In Ethiopia, 6% of raped schoolgirls reported having attempted suicide. They also feel embarrassed to talk about what had happened to them.[6] A study of adolescents in Brazil found prior sexual abuse to be a leading factor predicting several health risk behaviours, including suicidal thoughts and attempts.[27]

Sociological impact and mistreatment of victims

After a sexual assault, victims are subjected to investigations and, in some cases, mistreatment. Victims undergo medical examinations and are interviewed by police. During the criminal trial, victims suffer a loss of privacy and their credibility may be challenged. Sexual assault victims may also become the target of slut-shaming and cyberbullying. During criminal proceedings, publication bans and rape shield laws operate to protect victims from excessive public scrutiny.

Secondary victimization

Rape is especially stigmatizing in cultures with strong customs and taboos regarding sex and sexuality. For example, a rape victim (especially one who was previously a virgin) may be viewed by society as being "damaged." Victims in these cultures may suffer isolation, be disowned by friends and family, be prohibited from marrying, be divorced if already married, or even killed. This phenomenon is known as secondary victimization.[28]

Secondary victimization is the re-traumatization of the sexual assault, abuse, or rape victim through the responses of individuals and institutions. Types of secondary victimization include victim blaming and inappropriate post-assault behavior or language by medical personnel or other organizations with which the victim has contact.[29] Secondary victimization is especially common in cases of drug-facilitated, acquaintance, and statutory rape.

Victim blaming

Further information: Victim blaming

The term victim blaming refers to holding the victim of a crime to be responsible for that crime, either in whole or in part. In the context of rape, it refers to the attitude that certain victim behaviors (such as flirting or wearing sexually provocative clothing) may have encouraged the assault. This can cause the victim to believe the crime was indeed their fault. Rapists are known to use victim blaming as their primary psychological disconnect from their crime(s) and in some cases it has led to their inevitable conviction.

It has been proposed that one cause of victim blaming is the just world hypothesis. People who believe that the world is intrinsically fair may find it difficult or impossible to accept a situation in which a person is badly hurt for no reason. This leads to a sense that victims must have done something to deserve their fate. Another theory entails the psychological need to protect one's own sense of invulnerability, which can inspire people to believe that rape only happens to those who provoke the assault. Believers use this as a way to feel safer: If one avoids the behaviours of the past victims, one will be less vulnerable. A global survey of attitudes toward sexual violence by the Global Forum for Health Research shows that victim-blaming concepts are at least partially accepted in many countries.

It has also been proposed by Dr Roxanne Agnew- Davies, a clinical psychologist and an expert on the effects of sexual violence, that victim-blaming correlates with fear. "It is not surprising when so many rape victims blame themselves. Female jurors can look at the woman in the witness stand and decide she has done something 'wrong' such as flirting or having a drink with the defendant. She can therefore reassure herself that rape won't happen to her as long as she does nothing similar."[30]

Many of the countries in which victim blaming is more common are those in which there is a significant social divide between the freedoms and status afforded to men and women.

In Islamic countries

Rape is forbidden under Islamic law.[31] Some female rape victims are accused and punished for having sex outside of marriage. But there must be sufficient evidence before any sort of penalty is given.

Some rights advocates say that this aspect of Sharia law "not only negates the rights of women but is also a misinterpretation of Islam".[34] (see also Hudood Ordinance.)

Mainstream Sunni Islamic scholars, like Imam Malik, clearly state that no punishment is applied on the raped women. "The hadd (punishment) in such cases is applied to the rapist, and there is no punishment applied to the raped woman"[35][36]

Adult-on-child rape

Further information: Child sexual abuse

Rape and other forms of sexual assault on a child can result in both short-term and long-term harm, including psychopathology in later life.[37][38] Psychological, emotional, physical, and social effects include depression,[39][40][41] post-traumatic stress disorder,[42][43] anxiety,[44] eating disorders, poor self-esteem, dissociative and anxiety disorders; general psychological distress and disorders such as somatization, neurosis, chronic pain,[41] sexualized behavior,[45] school/learning problems; and behavior problems including substance abuse,[46][47] destructive behavior, criminality in adulthood and suicide.[48][49][50][51][52][53]

The risk of lasting psychological harm is greater if the perpetrator of the sexual assault on the child is a relative (i.e., incest), or if threats or force are used.[54] Incestual rape has been shown to be one of the most extreme forms of childhood trauma, a trauma that often does serious and long-term psychological damage, especially in the case of parental incest. The child may have problems communicating with family members and/or friends.[55]

See also


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Further reading

External links

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