The time immediately after a rape ordeal is confusing, emotional, and charged with anxiety –for the victim and their loved one(s). It is also a time of physical discomfort and high risk for them, high risk because they are most likely thinking about their experience in relation to how their loved ones will feel about it/about them and how they would react, this contributes a lot to what choices they would make in how to handle the experience. Not only have they been terrorized and totally violated, but they fear that their closest companions may not be supportive or believe them. One of the most frightening experiences for a victim is having the courage to talk to anyone and wondering how the person will react. Your reaction can set the tone for their recovery in years to come. They will wonder,
“Will I need medical care?”
“Should I tell my family?”
“Should I report this to police?”
“Could it happen again?”
“Will I become pregnant? “
“What if I get a disease like AIDS?”
“Will others reject me now?”
“Am I ruined for the rest of my life?”
“Will I be an embarrassment to the people I love?”
“Can my life be normal again?”
“Who would want me after this?”
Clearly, it isn’t something they can just “get over.” The emotional effects can last for years, and unfortunately service providers like the police, doctors, ministers, and lawyers can be very insensitive. For example, if they report the assault to a hospital, they would need to collect physical evidence which would be used in convicting the perpetrator, and they would most likely invite the police on seeing the victims’ bruises, if they’re severe. This is an intimate, painful process. And even more distressing is that this evidence must be collected before they bathe, change clothes, eat, drink, or brush their hair, this might take a while which does not help victims because all they want on getting out of the scene of the rape is to scrub themselves clean even as they may not feel clean for days to come. The advantages to a medical exam, though, are:
- Evidence can be used to convict the perpetrator.
- Physical injuries can be detected and treated immediately.
- Preventative contraception can be given to prevent pregnancy.
- Antibiotics can be given to combat infections, including many sexual diseases.
- Psychologically, it becomes their way of gaining control again by not letting the perpetrator “get away with it.” It would feel like a way of fighting back and taking a brave step for themselves.
It is important to encourage them to seek medical help, but the decision should be theirs. Remind them that you can go with them through every step, and even though you can’t be in the same room while the nurses are working, you will be right outside. If there are counselors in the hospital, or if one could be engaged, they could sit with the victim through every moment of the examination to talk with him or her, help them, give comfort, and provide both of you with more information about counselling and other services available.
Even if they don’t want to go through an evidence examination, or if the evidence has been lost because of delay, showering, etc. it is important that they see a physician as soon as possible. According to report from psychologists, assisting them in this process tells them two things about you: first, that you understand that the perpetrator is at fault here, not them, and you place responsibility where it should be: on the perpetrator, and you will use proper methods to seek justice. Second, you are compassionate and calm, and you want to be supportive and understanding of them. They are not going through this alone, but with a strong, dependable person who cares about them.
Some other emotional, psychological and physical reactions are as follows:
Emotional reactions. Guilt. Shame. Self-blame. Embarrassment. Fear. Distrust. Sadness. Vulnerability. Isolation. Lack of control. Anger. Numbness. Confusion. Shock. Disbelief. Denial.
Psychological reactions. Nightmares. Flashbacks. Depression. Difficulty concentrating. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Anxiety. Eating disorders. Substance use or abuse. Phobias. Low self-esteem.
Physical reactions. Changes in eating or sleeping patterns. Increased startle response. Concerns about physical safety. Physical injury. Concerns about pregnancy or contracting an STI or HIV.