Non-Flash version

Sarah: Rape as an Adult

Sarah is 34 years old and married. She does not work on Mondays and when she is alone she spends her time at home. One Monday in the summertime she was at home relaxing and listening to music, naked in the living room. It was quite loud and her neighbour from the apartment opposite hers came in (without knocking first), in order to ask her to turn it down. When he found Sarah undressed, he took it as an invitation and despite her resistance, he raped her.

Victim’s response and symptoms

Sarah feels ashamed and guilty about the attack. She wishes that she had not had the volume up so loud and that she had locked the door. She wonders whether she should have resisted more when her neighbour started to make advances, when he had found her naked. She is also ashamed to have to explain to people that she was at home naked in the middle of the day. She thinks the whole thing is her fault.

She can no longer face her own reflection and feels dirty. She also feels stupid and is gradually withdrawing from others, even her husband and children who are desperate to help her.

Sarah is constantly thinking back to the scene of the rape and imagines various scenarios. She is unable to resume her normal life, because everything reminds her of the rape.

She cannot bear her husband touching her and refuses any kind of sexual contact since the rape. She is sure that she will never be the same again, that she is destroyed and will never be able to make love again. She has gained quite a bit of weight and no longer wears a dress or make-up, worried about arousing men.

Even though the neighbour has been arrested, Sarah wants to move. She no longer feels safe in her home and finds it unbearable to be home alone on Mondays. Sarah has lost all motivation, talks little, and has suicidal thoughts.

The psychologist’s observations

Rape is more common in women than in men. This traumatic event can leave deep emotional scars in its victims. As we can see from Sarah’s behaviour, this trauma can directly affect one’s trust in others and all interactions with people can be seen as potentially dangerous. Women who have been sexually abused like Sarah, will tend to have more problems in their personal relationships, which we do not tend to see in, for example, victims of natural disasters.

Traumatic event and peritraumatic response

Even though rape does not necessarily imply a threat to one’s life, Sarah has experienced a threat to her physical integrity. During the rape she felt powerless and horrified. Sarah’s experience can therefore be considered as traumatic.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Since the rape, Sarah is exhibiting post-traumatic stress symptoms:

  • Intrusive thoughts: Images of the rape come over Sarah in the daytime.
  • Shame and guilt: These feelings are very common in victims of sexual abuse.
  • Sexual problems: Rape victims may have sexual problems.

Other problems

  • Depression: Sarah is gradually refusing all contact with others, including her own family. She does not feel like doing anything at all and feels that the future does not hold anything for her. Many rape victims with post-traumatic stress will also develop depression.
  • Suicidal thoughts: One needs to pay particular attention to people who express suicidal feelings after a traumatic experience. Sarah has hit an emotional ‘wall’ and wants to die, having no motivation or desires and feeling that it will not improve.
  • Eating disorders: Sarah tries to make herself unattractive to men. To this end, she has gained weight and no longer wears dresses or make-up.

Last updated: 1/1/2010 | © info-trauma 2009