Whether it occurs as a strategy of military or in an isolated incident, rape is an effective weapon not only physically, but psychologically. During the 1994 Rwandan genocide that cost between 800,000 to 1 million lives over the course of 100 days, rape became a widespread and systematic modus operandi. Indeed, a 1996 report published by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Rwanda estimated that between 250,000 to 500,000 Rwandese women and girls were raped during this brief period. There are no shortages of tales from women who survived the brutalization, sexual slavery, and forced mutilation. But, mass rape as a weapon was not isolated to the borders of Rwanda: in the 20th century alone, systematic rapes occurred in places such as China, Pakistan, Chad, Serbia, Germany, Sudan, among other regions that experienced large-scale violence. Rape is an assertion of dominance and the psychosexual scars it leaves are more permanent than its physical ones. However, a difficulty in prosecuting perpetrators of rape or sexual assault in any form – such as enforced pregnancy, prostitution, sterilization, or slavery – is that its victims often remain silent. The helplessness felt from being sexually assaulted against their will forces many victims of rape to suffer quietly in the psychosexual effects of rape.
Sexual assault in any form is an act of violence. In most cases, victims of rape believe that their survival depends on obedience and absolute submission to the perpetrators of the act. Once it occurs, however, women internalize it and cope with it in different ways. In 1974, Ann Wolbert Burgess and Lynda Lytle Holmstrom studied 146 patients admitted during a one-year period to the Boston City Hospital with a presenting complaint of having suffered rape. They sought to document the process of “rape trauma syndrome.” This involved recording the women’s state of mind when they were brought to the hospital and three months afterwards. What they recorded were two distinct phases of coping existed in the victims of rape: The Acute Phase (or Disorganization) and the Long-term Process of Reorganization.
The Acute phase involves the reaction in emotional terms in the forms of the expressed and the controlled. In the case of the controlled emotions, there are three key symptoms most victims demonstrated following being raped: first, they re-experience the trauma many times over and begin experienced a degree of shame and guilt by internalizing the myth that they had allowed the sexual assault to happen. Second, these patients socially withdraw themselves through antisocial behavior as a response to the emotional shock and numbness masking the pain they endure. Third, victims demonstrate avoidance behaviors by downplaying thoughts or feelings that may recall the traumatic event. By contrast to the restraining controlled emotions, victims may demonstrate expressed emotions. Survivors of rape are vulnerable to projecting irritability, hostility, rage, revenge, or anger as a means of coping with their horror.
Psychologists assert that the second stage of coping with rape is known as the Long-term Process of Reorganization. This involves changes in daily behavior and attitude in the victim after their initial emotional introspection begins to settle. Often these changes take on an external form in order to remodel their internal psyche, such as a change in appearance because it serves as a defensive reaction to the sexual assault. Even so, the psychological impact of rape never truly fades as another common symptom is recurring nightmares or dreams. Two types of nightmares are reported most frequently in victims: dreams of reliving the rape itself, and dreams in which the survivor is able to assert control over the sexual assault. These dreams have been recorded in victims years afterwards. They may even be accompanied by the development of phobias or even Major Depressive Disorders which affect sleeping habits, self-esteem, and other adverse influences on mental health.
[ad#downcont]The psychosexual effects of rape can be permanent if not dealt with properly. Fears, phobias, perversions, and anxieties towards sexuality are common deep-rooted consequences of rape. For example, suffering from sexual abuse as a child needs to have proper coping mechanisms otherwise the development of healthy adult personality is jeopardized. Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual development theory believed that the risk is that during one of our childhood psychosexual stages, our needs are not met or overindulgence is encouraged which results in a permanent fixation. This fixation leads to antisocial or personality disorders in the individual’s adult life. Indeed, the psychological damage caused by childhood abuse is commonly associated with serial killers and rapists themselves, such as Michael Wayne McGray or Albert De Salvo.
Even the International Criminal Court recognizes rape as a crime against humanity. Yet, rape remains a daily occurrence across the world and its effects on its victims are permanent. Yet, there often appears to be an eyes wired shut approach to keep it in the shadows. Rape has been in humans since we were living in caves, so it is fair to assume that it will never go away. What can be done is support greater openness and accountability in remedying those victims that have endured the truly unendurable.