Potential causes of developing PTSD – 2: Sexual assault

Potential causes of developing PTSD – 2: Sexual assault

Sexual violence is the most heinous crime affecting women and girls across the world. A lot of rape survivors feel violated in the most personal way, following the convict’s attempt to gain control of the victim’s body and mind. Despite the seriousness of the issue, there is a scarcity of facilities to help the sufferers regain self-confidence and lead a normal life.

As against the commonly held view, according to which most sexual acts are committed by some stranger in a dark lane, the act of sexual violence is often committed within the confines of a home and by someone known. It is estimated that in 75 percent of the cases the crime is committed by a friend, relative or colleague.

According to Ananda Amstadter, Ph.D., department of psychiatry and psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, since most acts of sexual violence are done by an acquaintance, treatment can be difficult because the victim tends to unknowingly transfer the danger associated with rape to every person he or she meets.

Fear of sexual assault exacerbates post-traumatic stress disorder

The first reaction of a rape victim is the feeling of disbelief, followed by pain and feelings of guilt and shame. The general belief that a woman is responsible for her rape increases the sense of guilt. Studies have shown that a constant feeling of fear, coupled with self-loathing, may exacerbate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While the general manifestations of PTSD are mistrust, insomnia, flashbacks, panic attacks and introversion, at times, even physical symptoms such as chronic pain, intestinal problems, muscle cramps could be the visible signs of PTSD.

The stigma attached to a rape has a devastating impact on the victim’s mind, comparable to a war veteran who has been wounded or has lost his friends and family in a war. It has been found that the scars of rape run deep and rape victims are more vulnerable to pains of PTSD as compared to war survivors.

Discussing the importance of language, empathy and understanding while developing a relationship with a rape survivor, who has enrolled for a therapy, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a Boston-based psychiatrist known for his research on post-traumatic stress said, “Communicating fully is the opposite of being traumatized.”

Letting go of the past crucial for recovery

One of the most crucial aspects of recovering from the trauma associated with a sexual assault is letting go of the past. Though there is a considerable amount of stigma attached to the heinous act of rape, it is essential to realize that the victim is not at fault.

Some of the common therapies that can ease the trauma of rape victims are cognitive processing therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and counseling. A relatively new therapy, EMDR, which helps in reprocessing the trauma with left-right eye movements, is considerably more impactful than conventional therapies. Adopting a desensitization approach, and using empathy all through, the therapist helps a victim regain his or her life in a shorter span of time, as compared to talk therapy.

Before, initiating the process of EMDR, however, it is essential for the victim to be enlisted into a preparatory phase, wherein the therapist talks about the dynamics of the rape and removes all the negative connotations associated with it. Group therapy, which consists of people sharing their life experiences, can also be helpful in overcoming the stigma attached to rape.

In case you know somebody suffering from PTSD or any other anxiety disorder, it is important to seek medical help. The Anxiety Treatment Centers of California can help you connect with some of the best anxiety disorders treatment centers in California. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 855-972-9459 or chat online with our experts who can guide you about various anxiety treatment centers in California, or in other parts of the United States.

Read the other articles of the series “Potential causes of developing PTSD:”

  1. War
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