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General Information About Rape
Feelings of People Who Have Been Raped

Fear: Victims of rape feel fear because of the threats made by the rapist and fear of what may happen if they don't do as the rapist says. The rapist often threatens to harm or kill victims if they report the crime, telling them he will "find them somewhere or somehow." Victims may also fear society's reaction if they tell anyone. People who have been raped are afraid the blame will be placed on them rather than on the rapist. Fear of other men may occur because of what the rapist has done. It is easy to generalize all men in the same category. Most victims of rape fear not being believed, especially if the victim knew the rapist or if the rapist was well-known in the community.

Guilt: Many times victims will internalize the mythology that the rape was somehow their fault. "I should have been wearing something else." l should have locked the door." "It must have been something I did." It is important to remember that the rape is a crime committed against a victim and that the rapist is responsible for the assault. Many times victims will feel guilty that they didn't attempt to fight the rapist or they didn't fight hard enough. It is important to remember that staying alive is the most important thing and that fighting the attacker may cause more harm or even death to the victim. Some victims may feel that because they knew the rapist they should have known he wasn't as he appeared. There is no way of knowing who is a rapist and who is not. Victims may have been with their assailant before and were never raped -- how would they know that this time would be different? Many victims have the idea that they would be able to resist or could take care of themselves if a rape were attempted. After the rape, self-doubts and guilt run rampant.

Embarrassment: Many victims are embarrassed to talk about the physical details of the assault. They have been brought up to believe that their bodies and sexual activities are private and not to be discussed. Talking or telling anyone about the rape may be embarrassing and painful. Many victims isolate themselves from family and friends because they're embarrassed to have friends and family find out about the assault. The victims may also fear being blamed by friends and family for the assault. The medical exam may also be embarrassing. A victim's body is again exposed to others, which may be an emotionally painful experience.

Anxiety: Many victims feel extreme anxiety and often react by shaking. When they remember the incident, physical reactions such as shortness of breath, panic, shaking in fear, etc., are common. Nightmares occur frequently as well. It is important for them to realize they are safe and the physical reactions are occurring as a result of feelings about rape. Questioning Why It Happened to Them Many victims of rape wonder why the rapist chose them or what it was that separated them from others. Rapists decide to rape, and they plan the rape. But they may not decide who the victim will be until the time of the attack. The decision may be based on who happens to be available, not because of who she is, what she does or how she dresses.

Anger: It is important to know that for many victims there is anger about the events following the rape, just as there is anger about the rape itself. Victims experience anger at having to change their lifestyles, and they feel anger because of their feelings of powerlessness. Anger can be a very appropriate reaction for victims of assault, because anger directed at the perpetrator can be the start of working through the assault. Counseling, reporting and prosecuting may be ways to vent those feelings.

Ten Ways To Help A Victim

1. BE INFORMED about what services are available in your community for rape victims.
2. BE PREPARED for extreme personality changes in the victim. She or he may exhibit wide mood swings, may be in a state of shock, may burst into tears or panic for no apparent reason, or may be hostile toward you. You have to be prepared for anything when you walk into that hospital room.
3. BE CALM but not cold or indifferent. If the victim senses that her/his experience is upsetting you or that you would rather not discuss it at all, the victim may withdraw from your vital support.
4. BE SENSITIVE in probing for details. Do not ask questions that might indicate that you are more interested in the assault than the victim's feeling about the attack. Never insinuate that the attack could have been prevented or avoided. A discussion of retaliation against the rapist will also increase the victim's trauma.
5. BE CAUTIOUS about helping too much. Do not be overprotective or take over the victim's decision-making. If you do, you will be doing the same thing the rapist did -robbing the victim of her/his dignity and choice.
6. BE CAREFUL about physical contact with the victim. Some may want to be held or comforted, while others will not want to be touched at all. At the same time, the victim needs reassurance that you are not repulsed or angry with her. Any intimate partner needs to be gentle and reassuring that the victim is still loved and desirable, without pressuring her/him for sexual relations.
7. BE AVAILABLE to the victim's needs as a person, not just a rape victim. The assault occurred and is probably at the forefront of the victim's thoughts, but she or he has other things in her or his life. Do not treat this person like an invalid, but do not overdo the cheery bedside manner either.
8. BE PATIENT with the victim's progress. Recovering from such an ordeal is a process that takes time. Each person must be allowed to go through it at their own pace. Never indicate that you think she/he is overreacting or that she/he is lucky that something worse didn't happen. Validate and confirm what she/he feels, not how you think she/he should feel.
9. BE DISCREET about telling others about the rape. You are violating the victim's right to privacy by discussing the case with others, without her knowledge or permission.
10. BE ENCOURAGING about recovery. Ensure the victim that this assault was not her or his fault, that she or he was not singled out to suffer, and that everyone recovers at their own pace. Accentuate any progress that has been made.

The info on this page was reprinted with permission from
South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault