Extensive research exists on the numbers of women who have been raped, and much of the research shows that sexual assault and rape occur in extremely high numbers at colleges and universities.
One recent study suggests that 15 percent of college women are raped in their freshman year of college, and that number would be much higher if it included the more general category of sexual assault Carey, Durney, Shepardson, and Carey, What happens after rape?
In terms of relationships and sex , how does rape change rape survivors? The answer, not surprisingly, isn't simple. Rape is a massive physical and psychological trauma, and people cope in very different ways with a traumatic event.
I have treated women who survived rape and later self-medicated with alcohol or drugs , and many of them also met the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder , among other diagnoses.
The women I have worked with clinically who have been raped report that one of the most difficult parts of the experience is the legacy it leaves in terms of trusting men, even a man with whom the woman may already be in a relationship.
Among single women, surviving rape makes dating - and sex with future sexual partners - an often harrowing and always stressful experience. If these statistics don't sound accurate to you, your hesitation or disbelief supports another reality about rape research: While much literature focuses on what the effect of rape is on women, what is it like for those who have relationships with women who have been raped? Perhaps if we think more about this issue, we can educate those who have relationships with women who have been raped to be more sensitive.
My goal is to make a few points that could help you understand your sex or relationship partner better, and to help make the experience for the woman as comforting and soothing as possible.
If you are in a position where a woman discloses that she has been raped, it can be overwhelming and even scary to hear. A million thoughts could flood your mind. The reality is that you don't actually have to say all that much. Without exception, never blame her - out loud or privately to yourself.
Don't try to figure out the circumstances to see if the rape could have been avoided. Examples of things you could say that might be comforting to her: Whatever you do, don't try to "solve" the problem or figure out what could have been done differently to avoid the traumatic event. Focus on letting her know that you are listening and that you care about what this experience was like for her. Don't treat her like a lab specimen or museum exhibit by staring like she has three heads and don't tell yourself that she is an anomaly.
If you are completely honest with your feelings, you may have a moment where you have a mental flash: Is she damaged goods? Will she ever move past this? Yes, she will, and she will heal one day at a time. Convey sensitivity Once a woman has shared that she survived a rape and the two of you have talked about it to a limited extent, let some time pass - hours or even a day or so - and then come back to her.
Ask her if it's okay if you ask her some questions about it. In terms of the rape, you might want to ask her how it has affected how she feels toward men, or you might want to ask how it has affected how she feels toward sex. Ask her how she feels about the way you treat her in bed, and ask her if there are things you could do to make her feel safer and more comfortable.
Some women may want to talk extensively about their experience, while other women may not want to discuss it much at all. As far as you are concerned, however she chooses to talk about it is absolutely fine. One thing that I recommend, especially if you are with a woman who doesn't want to talk about it, is to read about other women's experiences.
You will find that reading about other women's experiences, whether online or in books, will make understand better the horror of rape. Is a woman stronger in the end after surviving and healing from a rape? One would hope that healing from a major trauma would cause one to feel more resilient , but surviving and healing from a trauma comes with no guarantees about what life will be like after the event.
In my clinical work with women, I have found that surviving a sexual assault causes them to be more vigilant and afraid walking alone at night or in any other situation in which they are alone or in an isolated area. While some people like to believe that "Everything happens for a reason," I don't find any psychological truth to that when it comes to psychological trauma, whether it be rape or something else. I have found, however, that something good can always come from something bad.
The female I worked with not long ago who suffered a rape found only one real benefit: She is more in touch with her feelings - especially her anger - than she ever was before. And while there is definite value in being in touch with your anger, let's all admit that suffering a trauma is a pretty awful way to learn that lesson. Feel free to explore my book on dysfunctional romantic relationships , Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve, or follow me on Twitter.
Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, ; 76 6: The integration of three behavioral systems.