Myths about rape are all about shifting the responsibility for the crime from the perpetrator to the victim. Rape and sexual assault are about power and violence, not sex. The vast majority of sexual assaults are planned carefully and are not committed because of uncontrollable sexual urges.
Myth – A rapist is a stranger.
Fact – Over 50% of women know their attacker in some capacity, for example, friend, lover, colleague, husband, ex-partner, neighbour.
Myth – Rape only happens in dark alleys.
Fact – 60% of women are attacked inside a building, and for 31% of women rape occurs in their own home – the most common place of all.
Myth – Women get raped because they are dressed provocatively.
Fact – If a man decides to rape someone, it makes no difference what she is wearing.
Myth – Rapists are monsters/maniacs.
Fact – Rapists are ordinary men, many are highly respected members of the community and in 1980 in England and Wales, only 2% of convicted rapists were considered to be in need of psychiatric treatment.
Myth – Rape is a crime of sexual needs or uncontrollable urges.
Fact – Men can, and do, control their sexual urges. Rape is a crime of violence, control, degradation and intimidation – it is not about sex but about power. The vast majority of rapes are carefully planned.
Myth – Women say “no” but they mean “yes”.
Fact – When women say no they mean no. Sex without consent is rape.
Myth – She didn’t struggle so she was not raped.
Fact – Most women are too afraid to struggle because of threats of violence.
Myth – Women enjoy rape. Some women ask for it. Women lead the rapist on.
Fact – It is handy to be able to blame the woman in this way – it lets the attackers off the hook and it helps other people to feel safe. If you believe that women are to blame when they suffer rape, then you might imagine that you could protect yourself by being careful and sensible. The truth is that an attack can take place against any woman, at any time, and in any place. Suffering rape is a traumatic violation. The victim is often afraid that her attacker will kill her. She may try to calm the rapist down by pretending that she is enjoying herself. Rape is the sole responsibility of the rapist, regardless of anything a woman may do to survive.
A concept which has reached us from the U.S. Rape perpetrated within the confines of a ‘date’ situation i.e. where the woman has willingly met the man, but then at some stage has been raped.
Rape perpetrated by a person known to the victim, but not a close friend. May be known through employment or general social contact.
Who Rapes on a Date?
Boyfriend, past or present, Ex-husband or partner, an online date, etc
Who Rapes an Acquaintance?
- Friend, or partner of friend
- Work colleague
- Distant family member
- Clients – of prostitutes, estate agents etc.
In summary – anyone
A perpetrator’s usual defence is that there was consent, which amounts to her word against his. Date and acquaintance rape are notoriously difficult to prove without corroborative evidence, e.g. signs of struggle or neighbours overhearing, and even then convictions are rare.
In America, about 80% of rapists are known to the victims; often the rape has been carefully planned and15-20% of survivors said their attacker wore a condom to avoid being convicted by DNA testing. Some women also report being forced to bathe after the rape.
In our experience, date and acquaintance rape can be as traumatic for a survivor as rape by a stranger. Imagine how hard it would be to trust anyone after being raped by someone you thought was a friend.
Imagine how difficult it would be to see your rapist at work every day because you thought no-one would believe you if you told.
Corrective rape is a term used to denote incidents where lesbians are raped as a punishment for their sexuality and to “cure” them. It is therefore a direct and targeted attack against a person’s sexuality and gender. According to an ActionAid report, women who have experienced “corrective rape” say that,
“verbal abuse before and during the rape focused on being ‘taught a lesson’ and being ‘shown how to be real women and what a real man tasted like’. In other words, women who choose not to identify as heterosexual are being victimised for being ‘abnormal’ for daring to step outside the boundaries of what their families, communities and wider society prescribe for them.” (2009: 12)
This is a blatant and violent expression of homophobia and has consequences for women in the aftermath of the incident(s), for example, women may call into question her sexuality and her identity.
The trauma experienced by women and girls following rape and/or sexual assault may manifest itself either immediately after the attack or, as xis frequently the case, some long time afterwards. Attacks affect all individuals differently, but many of the following are common in survivors:
- Physical injuries
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Feeling of powerlessness
- Physical repulsion
- Loss of control
Obviously, some of these can persist for a very long time. Some can also develop into longer term effects on behaviour and emotional well-being.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Para-suicide (this is when a person self-harms or makes a suicidal gesture but does not intent to kill themselves)
- Lack of self-esteem
- Eating disorders
- Sexual problems
- Physical problems
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Alienation and aloneness
- Never able to trust anyone
Possible reasons for Self-Injury
- As a victim decides when or how to hurt themselves, it can be a way to feel as if they have some control over their lives. Physical pain can block out deeper, emotional pains.
- It is a way of externally demonstrating inner pains.
- It may be done as a punishment for their own guilt or shame.
- It may be seen as a way of releasing the ‘evil’ inside.
- It might be an attempt to hurt or destroy a ‘bad’ part of the self. Or another personality in cases of Multiple Personality Disorder.
- It might cleanse or destroy a part of the body associated with the abuse.
- It is sometimes a way of preventing overwhelming memories – the physical sensation of pain brings a victim back to the ‘here and now’ and saves them from having to confront painful memories.
- Seeing your own blood or feeling your own pain is a way of proving to yourself that you are still alive. This can be especially important where abuse has left the victim emotionally numb.
- Dressing a self inflicted wound can give a sense of comfort which is missing when the victim gets no care from anyone else, or it can seem like justified care when they feel as if they do not deserve to be looked after.
- It is a special secret – something which the victim keeps exclusively for themselves.
Practical Advice on Self-Injury
- Self-injury whilst on drugs or alcohol can go wrong – a caller may do more damage than intended.
- A tetanus jab should be renewed every 10 years.
- Self-harm should only be done with clean implements that are not shared.
- If Para suicide is the method of self harm, the victim should try and be informed about the drugs they use – even over the counter drugs can be dangerous, for example, paracetamol can cause liver damage even in fairly small doses.
- If a victim feels their urge to self-harm is life threatening, it is a good idea for them to try and be with other people, preferably away from implements etc, until the crisis passes – and it always will.
- Cuts should be cleaned and dressed with ‘steri’ strips or non-stick dressing.
- Burns should be run under cold water and left to the air, unless they are severe enough to require a suitable burns dressing.
- The body will be in shock, so the victim should try and rest after self-harming.
- Although most self-harmers will refuse medical attention, the following situations would ideally receive professional treatment:
- Cuts which are very deep and very wide
- Blood that spurts or bleeding that will not stop
- Burns or scalds larger than a 50p piece
- Wounds that are swollen, hot or producing pus
But remember it is the victim’s choice what to do
Most sexual abuse of children is ritualised in some way. Abusers use repetition, routine and ritual to coerce children into patterns of behaviour in order to instil fear and ensure silence. Bath-times, nursery rhymes or bedtime stories, gifts, elaborate games, dressing up, taking photographs or exchanging secrets are all tactics which abusers use to gain the trust of a new victim. The sexual abuse of children is never a random act of lust – just as stranger rape is rarely a spontaneous, unplanned crime – it always involves thorough planning and preparation. A paedophile ring will often be geared up to record abuse on film and distribute the resulting photographs or videos. This ‘pornography’ is used by paedophiles for their own gratification and to prepare children for abuse. Some groups use elaborate rituals in order to terrify children into silence, by convincing them of the absolute power of their abusers. Religious practices and beliefs may be invoked – Christian or pagan Gods and demons can be enlisted to serve the abusers’ ends. An animal may be tortured, killed, or ‘brought back to life’ to demonstrate the power of the group. When you consider how many adults believe in the power of good or evil, it is easy to see how easy it is to convince children that magic and illusion is reality. Children, after all, are generally taught to believe adults, and abusers exploit this trust and feed children’s imaginations.
Ritual abuse is simply a form of group abuse of children – the use of religious chanting, imagery etc adds a powerful angle, and will often dominate the flashbacks and nightmares suffered by the children. Many ritual abuse survivors will have been given a trigger to control them when the abuser is not present – this trigger is usually an everyday object such as a clock, ornament or an everyday phrase which will constantly remind them of the abuse and the fact that something terrible will happen if they disclose it to anyone. It is not surprising that many survivors are frightened of speaking out. Child sexual abuse is always about power and secrecy. Until the early 1980’s, childhood sexual abuse was not seen as widespread; but as more and more survivors spoke out, society has had to listen. Despite official reports concluding that satanic abuse is not occurring in the UK, survivors are speaking out, and it is clear that paedophile rings, often involving many members of the same family, do engage in this ritualised form of abuse.
Survivors will often talk of a number of differing experiences, but many elements of ritual abuse are common:
- Elaborate rituals, ‘games’ and ‘ceremonies’
- Systematic emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
- Being used in child pornography and prostitution.
- Being forced to take drugs and alcohol.
- Being tortured almost to the point of death.
- Being forced to participate in the abuse of others
Reproduced with the kind permission of Tyneside Rape Crisis Centre.
Flashbacks – What are they?
Many women who are survivors of any form of sexual violence experience flashbacks at one time or another. Flashbacks are temporary states of remembering something painful or traumatic which has been hidden for quite some time in the subconscious mind and during a flashback; you may feel as though aspects of the rape or sexual assault are actually happening to you now. The duration of a flashback differs and could last from a few seconds to a few hours.
When do flashbacks occur ?
Flashbacks can occur at unpredictable and unexpected times. They can be triggered by anything that serves as a reminder of the rape or assault or the perpetrator, for example they can occur if you’re feeling any of the following:
- Low or vulnerable
- Helpless or powerless
- Exhausted or tired
- Sad or tearful
- Angry or resentful
- Embarrassed or ashamed
- Anxious or worried
- Trapped or hounded
- Sexual or intimate
- Happy or excited
- Calm or relaxed
As this list shows, flashbacks can occur regardless of how you are feeling. The list is not intended to be exhaustive as there are so many ways you could be feeling when a flashback occurs. Many women have cited the following example as a trigger for flashbacks:
Someone who’s physical appearance reminds you of the perpetrator, including:
- Facial features
Flashbacks can be triggered at any time and can happen anywhere e.g. you could be watching a programme on T.V. or reading a magazine or out at the theatre or out for a meal etc. when a flashback occurs. Do flashbacks differ in any way ? Yes, flashbacks can be experienced in many forms and combinations which include some or all of the following:
This is like watching a film or slideshow of the original rape or assault. You may experience this as happening inside your head or you may experience this as happening outside of you and involving other people. This might be likely to happen if people around you remind you of the rape/assault or the perpetrator by doing or saying similar things. You may find yourself watching and/or re-experiencing all of the rape/assault scene or tiny fragments of it. The images you see could be clear or distorted and you may see the same picture from different angles at different times. For example, you may see a picture of the perpetrator coming towards you, or grabbing you and you may then re-experience the feelings you had when you were raped or assaulted; or you may see the perpetrator and yourself in the same picture, so you are watching the picture from an observers perspective and you may feel cut off from any feeling.
This is described as hearing conversations or sounds which are associated with the rape/assault. You might experience these sounds as being inside your head or outside of you i.e. in the same room. These sounds could be clear or distorted and may sound near or far away.
This is described as feeling bodily sensations associated with the rape/assault. This type of flashback could manifest in the following ways:
- You may feel as if you are being touched on any part of your body when in reality, there is no one there. This could range from feeling someone touch your arm to feeling as though someone is lying on top of you.
- Depending on the severity of this experience, you may feel anxious, frightened, confused or that you are going mad, particularly if you do not understand what is happening to you, or if you try to consciously stop it happening and are unable to.
During this type of flashback you may re-experience the physical sensations and/or pain that you felt when being raped or assaulted.
These sensations could be experienced as happening anywhere on, or inside of your body.
This type of flashback can also include strong, overwhelming sensations of taste and/or smell.
How can I help myself during and after flashbacks?
If you have experienced one or more flashbacks, you may be feeling frightened, confused, disorientated, and/or overwhelmed. Theses feelings are understandable and they are normal reactions to what can be a terrifying experience. You are not going mad or crazy; you are remembering experiences, feelings, thoughts and images, which were too frightening or impossible to deal with at the time that they occurred. There are no specific reactions to a flashback.Every reaction to a flashback is an individual response, usually based on the ways in which you coped with the rape or assault.
- You may experience a flashback and feel very numb; you may have shut your feelings down and may watch the rape or assault scene as though it were happening to someone else.
- You may feel nauseous, as if you are going to be physically sick, or you may actually vomit.
- You may feel absolute terror, as if you are going to die.
- You may experience panic attacks and feel totally out of control
Although they can feel very frightening, flashbacks are actually a good sign that you are unearthing the buried trauma and that you are on your way to recovery. It is important that you reassure yourself with the knowledge that this is a temporary state, it will not last forever and through time, the flashback will reduce in frequency and intensity. You may find yourself trying to avoid all potential triggers for these memories. This is not possible as there are so many situations that could trigger memories. While it is not possible to control the nature and strength of the flashbacks, you can do a lot of things to help lessen the power and impact that they have on your life.
Take yourself to a safe place
This may be in your home, curled up on the settee with a warm quilt around you, or in the bath, or in your favourite chair, or at a good friends house. Go wherever you need to go, in order to feel safe and where you know you will be safe. If you are not able to go to a safe place at the time of the flashback, remind yourself that what you have experienced is a memory, take several deep breaths and promise yourself that as soon as you can, you will take time out to explore the flashback in more detail.
Don’t fight the flashback
Although this may feel difficult, try to breathe deeply and let the memory surface. Using alcohol, solvents, drugs, food and/or self-injury etc. to bury the feelings from a flashback can actually add to and prolong the trauma of recovering buried memories. It can be hard to change these familiar coping mechanisms and old habits die hard, however it will be very helpful to you in the long run if you can manage to avoid coping with flashbacks in this way. If you try to ignore or push away emerging memories they are likely to feel stronger and more powerful as they fight for recognition.
Remind yourself of the day, date, time etc .Look at your surroundings, where you are right now. Remind yourself of how old you are, where you live etc. Try to let part of yourself stay in the present while, at the same time allowing yourself to remember your past.
Remind yourself that this is a memory
This is a memory of something that has already happened to you and you have survived it. Reassure yourself that you are not being hurt in the present, even though you may feel as though it is happening now. It is important that you keep on reminding yourself that you have come through this experience and that you are now on the road to recovery.
Give yourself space and time to recover
Reliving memories can be a painful and exhausting experience. It may take several hours or days for you to feel okay again. If you need to rest, sleep, cry or be angry, give yourself permission to do so. Don’t jump up and try to do something else straight away.
Write about your memory
If you feel able to, write down what you remember from the flashback. This can help to ‘get it out’ of your mind by putting it on paper. This can also be used as a diary or journal of your recovery. Useful things to write about may be:
- What you remembered
- How you felt at the time
- How you feel now
After having one or more flashbacks, you may feel vulnerable and low. This is the time to give yourself a reward or treat for all of your hard work. It will be helpful if you can do something that makes you feel good, for example, a warm aromatherapy/bubble bath, a drink of hot chocolate or milk, a bunch of flowers, a long relaxing walk, meeting with supportive friends, seeing a movie, listening to your favourite music, cooking your favourite food etc.
Talk about the flashback
Even though you may feel like keeping the flashback to yourself, it can be really helpful if you share it with a supportive person. In talking it through you may gain more insight to yourself and it may help you to put your experience into perspective. Remember, you have not done anything wrong, being raped or assaulted was not your fault and you do not have to suffer in silence. Give yourself permission to receive support and understanding from others.
Be proud of yourself
You have come through a frightening experience and you’re still in one piece. You have let yourself remember a very traumatic time in your life and that takes a lot of courage and strength to do .Through this process of remembering and acknowledging your past, you have moved deeper into your journey of healing and have grown a little bit more. Well done!