By Chinenye MaryRose Okonkwo
Presented to the Catholic Women Organisation (CWO) 2020 Extended Executive Maiden August Meeting at St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral Parish, Ekwulobia Diocese on August 14, 2020
- Concept of Rape
- Types of Rape
- The effects of Rape on victims and Society
- Preventive measures of rape
- Myths and facts about rape and sexual assaults
- Myth: You can spot a rapist by the way he looks or acts.
- Myth: If you didn’t fight back, you must not have thought that it was that bad.
- Myth: People who are raped “ask for it” by the way they dress or act.
- Myth: Date rape is often a misunderstanding.
- Myth: It’s not rape if you’ve had sex with that person before.
- Recovering from Rape and Sexual Trauma
The word rape is derived from a Latin word “rapere”, which means to “seize”, or “take by force”. It is a forced unwanted sexual intercourse also known as sexual assault which can happen to both males and females of any age. Sexual violence is a common phenomenon and occurs worldwide. Many people believe that rape is a sexual act. Although rape involves sexual acts, it is motivated by the desire for power and control over another person rather than sexual attraction or the desire for sexual gratification. In other words, rape is a crime of violence. Rape is primarily regarded as a crime against sexual integrity. If rape is the only way for an individual to get sexual satisfaction, it meets the criteria of paraphilia or sexual disorder i.e. a disorder of sexual preference. The correct technical term is “biastophilia”.
Rape also occurs when someone forces or tricks another person into unwanted sexual activity even if actual physical violence is not involved. It could be verbal or visual sexual abuse or any act that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. Rape is further described as a felony in which a person is forced to have sexual intercourse without giving consent. Many countries include homosexual rape, incest and other sex offences in the definition of rape. Sexual assault encompasses a range of acts including coerced sex in marriage and dating relationships, rape by strangers, organized rape in war, sexual harassment(including demands for sex for jobs or school grades), rape of children i.e. pedophilia, trafficking of women and girls, female genital mutilation and forced exposure to pornography. Rape is often motivated by extreme anger towards the victim or a need to overpower the victim. Rape is also seen as a sexual intercourse with a woman by a man without her consent and chiefly by force or deception. Sexual assault is also not discriminatory to sex; both males and females are affected but studies have shown that the number of female victims is far greater than male victims. However, there are many rumored or even reported cases of men who have been raped in contemporary society including Nigeria.
The concept of rape, both as abduction and in the sexual sense made its first historical appearance in early religious text. Rape culture is a concept of unknown origin and of uncertain definition; yet it has made its way into everyday vocabulary and is assumed to be commonly understood.
- Forcible date rape
- Drug facilitated date rape
- Blitz rape
- Spousal rape
- College campus rape
- Group rape
- Rape of children by parents, elder relatives, and other relations
- Statutory rape
- Prison rape
- Bottle rape
- War rape
The term “acquaintance rape” or “date rape” refers to rape or non-consensual sexual activity between people who are already acquainted, friends, acquaintances, people on a date or even people in an existing romantic relationship where consent for sexual activity is not given or given under duress. The vast majority of rapes are committed by people who already know the victim. However the label “date rape” is a very general term.
Various drugs are used by rapist to render their victims unconscious, some also cause memory loss. This means that the victim maybe unable to resist, what some may consider as consensual sex. Date rape drugs refers to any drug that can be used to assist in the commission of a sexual assault (date rape)
This is also known as stranger rape. It occurs when the rapist assaults the victim on the street with no prior contact. Generally, the suspect comes out of nowhere.
Also known as spouse rape, marital rape, wife rape, husband rape, partner rape or intimate sexual partner assault (IPSA), is rape between married or de facto couple. Spousal rape is non-consensual sexual assault in which the perpetrator is the victim’s spouse. It is often assumed that spousal rape is less traumatic than that from a stranger. Research reveals that victims of marital or partner rape suffer longer lasting trauma than victims of stranger rape possibly because of a lack social validation that prevents a victim from getting access to support.
It is sad that accurate records of sexual violence on campuses in Nigerian higher institutions are not available because most incidents go unreported and when reported at all, perpetrators are not prosecuted for fear that it would inflict a permanent social scar on the victim to the extent of robbing him or him or her the gains of education. Women aged 16-24 are at the highest of sexual assault. Alcohol and drugs are implicated as playing a major role in rapes on college campuses. The subject, college rape attracts attention because of the presence of many young men and women, often experiencing their first years away from home together, in an environment where prior controls, supervision and discipline are to a great extent removed. The removal of supervision and control often put these youths in a position to engage in adult behavior, with some anticipating new activities and freedoms, whilst others are left more vulnerable and less supervised.
Group rape (also known as gang, gang bang, run a train or pack rape) occurs when a group of people participate in the rape of a single victim. It is far more damaging to victim and in some jurisdiction is punished more severely than rape by single person. The term “gang bang” was a synonym for gang rape when public discussion of sexual activity in general was a taboo; in the advent of pornography industry and relaxed sexual tensions, the term is now often used as slang for consensual group sex.
This form of rape is known as incest and is committed by the child’s parents or close relatives such as grandparents, aunts and uncles. Incest is defined as sexual intercourse between closely related persons.
National and/or regional governments, citing an interest in protecting “young people” or minors, treat any sexual contact with such a person as an offence even if he or she agrees to the sexual activity. The offence is often based on the presumption that under a certain age do not have the capacity to give informed consent. The age at which the individual is considered to give a consent is called age of consent. This varies in different countries and regions.
Many rapes happen in prison. These rapes are virtually always homosexual in nature since the prisons are separated by sex. These acts are mostly committed by people who were not homosexual before their imprisonment. The attacker is usually another inmate but prison may also be involved.
Coerced sexual penetration with a foreign object is classed as rape or sexual assault in some societies and jurisdictions.
This type of rape is also known as “rape as a means of warfare”. During war, rape is often used as a means of psychological warfare in other to humiliate the enemy and undermine their morale. Rapes in war are often systematic and thorough and military leaders may actually encourage their soldiers to rape civilians.
The effects of rape could physical, psychological and sociological.
The physical effects of rape could be one or more of the following
- Injuries from beating or choking such as bruises, scratches, cuts and broken bones.
- Swelling around the genital area.
- Bruising around the vagina.
- Injury to the rectal –vaginal area such as tearing of tissue that connects the anus to the vagina.
- Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) such as herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV/AIDS, etc.
- Possible pregnancy in a regular menstruating female.
- Severe anxiety
- Difficulty in concentrating or sleeping.
- Dreaming about what happened.
- Inappropriate guilt feelings.
- Emotional numbness or irritability.
- Extreme fear, etc.
Rape as a concept has a cultural connotation that gives the impetus to the way it is socially perceived. In most Nigerian traditional cultures, sexual infidelity is viewed as a serious infraction against the established community norm of morality. Hence the offenders are severely punished. More often than not, the female victim is stigmatized forever with the possible consequences of being socially branded, divorced or neglected by husband where she is already married, sentenced to social ostracizationthat may deny her the opportunity of getting a suitor to marry where she is yet unmarried. The woman at times can be sentenced to death where the community is yet fastened to the hard core traditional ways of doing things.
- Public enlightenment
- Institutional Framework
Public enlightenment has been shown to be a critical tool in changing behavior, attitude, beliefs and value system of people. Therefore there should be intense public enlightenment and education at schools, social clubs, cultural group gatherings, churches, mosques and through the media, to first of demystify the myths about sexual assaults. These myths inform the way many people think about sexual assault, and because they are in the background unconsciously influencing people’s thoughts, the false assumption may be seen as being true. For example, when we read a newspaper that a young has been raped perhaps near a night club, we often instinctively search for causes other than the real one(that she was raped because a man with power the to do so decided to rape her). Perhaps we proffer the reason for the rape as tied to the place she was raped or time of the day or the clothes she was wearing or the fact that she was alone. This way of thinking deflects blame from where it rightly belongs with the perpetrator of the crime. It is this kind of community disposition and ignorance that detracts from tackling the real cause of rape without which preventive efforts will be futile.
It has been shown that education of children especially the girl child, goes a long way in boosting the socio-economic and socio-cultural status of women in the society. This in the long run will inherently empower women who are often disadvantaged by the undue attention paid to education of male children over their female counterparts especially in the developing world. This imbalance coupled with poverty and ignorance, has led to persistent practice in certain parts of Nigeria where children and teenagers instead of being in the classroom are used for street hawking of petty wares by their parents and caregivers, thus making them vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse. Child and women trafficking with the attendant risk of sexual assault and exploitation would be greatly curtailed if equal opportunity and free formal education is provided for all children. Sexual assault prevention requires a solid foundation and one of the pillars would be addressing the gross inequality against the girl child in the educational system.
Prevention of sexual assault will remain a mirage until society puts in place institutional framework to deal comprehensively with actual cases of sexual assault. This approach involves functional, skilled and synchronized services and also includes the criminal justice system, the police, social services and sexual assault services. Encouraging victims/survivors of rape to break their silence by making freely available such services, which should be community based and successful prosecution of perpetrators, will serve as a deterrent and hopefully prevent the next person from falling victim.
Dispelling the toxic, victim-blaming myths about sexual violence can help one start the healing process.
Fact: There’s no surefire way to identify a rapist. Many appear completely normal, friendly, charming and non-threatening.
Fact: During a sexual assault, it’s extremely common to freeze. Your brain and body shuts down in shock making it difficult to move, speak or think.
Fact: Rape is a crime of opportunity. Studies show that rapists choose victims based on their vulnerability, not on how sexy they appear or how flirtatious they are.
Fact: Date rapist often defend themselves by claiming the assaults was a drunken mistake or miscommunication. But research shows that the vast majority of date rapists are repeat offenders. These men target vulnerable people and often ply them with alcohol in other to rape them.
Fact: Just because you’ve previously consented to sex with someone doesn’t give the perpetual right to your body. If your spouse, boyfriend or lover forces sex against your will, it’s rape.
Recovering from sexual assault takes time, and the healing process can be painful. But you can regain your sense of control, rebuild your self –worth and learn to heal. Regardless of age or gender, the impact of sexual violence goes far beyond physical injuries. The trauma of being raped or sexually assaulted can be shattering, leaving one feeling scared, ashamed and alone or plagued by nightmares, flashbacks and other unpleasant memories. The world doesn’t feel like a safe place anymore. You no longer trust others, you don’t even trust yourself. You may question your judgment, your self-worth and even your sanity. You may blame yourself for what happened or believe that you are “dirty” or “damaged goods”. Relationship feels dangerous, intimacy impossible and on top of that many rape survivors may struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.
It is important to remember that what you’re experiencing is a normal reaction to trauma. The feelings of helplessness, shame, defectiveness and self- blame are symptoms not reality. No matter how difficult it may seem, with these tips and techniques, one can come to terms with what happened, regain sense of safety and trust and learn how to heal and move on with life.
It can be extraordinarily difficult to admit that you were raped or sexually assaulted. There is a stigma attached. It can make you feel weak or dirty. You may also be afraid of how others will react. Will they judge you? Look at you differently? It seems easier to downplay what happened or keep it a secret but when you stay silent, you deny yourself help and reinforce your victimhood.
- Reach out to someone you trust – it’s common to think that if you don’t talk about your rape, it didn’t really happen but you can’t heal when you are avoiding the truth and hiding only adds to the feeling of shame. As scary as it is to open up, it will set you free. However, it’s important to be selective about who you tell especially at first. Your first bet is someone who is supportive, empathic and calm. If you don’t have someone you trust, talk to a therapist or call a rape crisis hotline.
- Challenge your sense of helplessness and isolation– trauma leaves you feeling powerless and vulnerable. It’s important to remind yourself that you have strengths and coping skills that can get you through tough times. One of the best ways to reclaim your sense of power is by helping others: volunteer your time, give blood, reach out to a friend in need or donate to your favorite charity.
- Consider joining a support group for other rape and sexual abuse survivors. Support group can help you feel less isolated and alone. They also provide invaluable information on how to cope with symptoms and work towards recovery. If you can’t find a support group in your area, look for an online group.
Even if you intellectually understand that you’re not to blame for the rape or sexual attack, you may still struggle with sense of guilt or shame. These feelings can surface immediately following the assault or arise years after the attack. But as you acknowledge the truth of what happened, it will be easier to fully accept that you are not responsible. You did not bring the assault on yourself and you have nothing to be ashamed of.
Feeling of guilt and shame often stem from misconception such as:
- You didn’t stop the assault from happening– after the fact, it’s easy to second guess what you did or didn’t do. But when you in the midst of an assault, your brain and body are in shock, you can’t think clearly. Many people say they feel “frozen”. Don’t judge yourself for this natural reaction to trauma. You did the best you could under extreme circumstances. If you could have stopped the assault, you would have.
- You trusted someone you “shouldn’t” have– one of the most difficult things to deal with following an assault by someone you know is violation of trust. It’s natural to start questioning yourself and wondering if you missed the warning signs. Just remember that your attacker is the only one to blame. Don’t beat yourself up for assuming that your attacker was a decent human being. Your attacker is the one who should feel guilty and ashamed not you.
- You were drunk or not cautious enough– regardless of the circumstances, the only one who is to blame is the perpetrator. You did not ask for it or deserve what happened to you. Assign responsibility where it belongs: on the rapist.
When you go through something stressful, your body temporary goes into “fight- or –flight” mode, when the threat has passed, your body calms down. But traumatic experiences such as rape can cause your nervous system to become stuck in a state of high alert. You are hypersensitive to the smallest of stimuli; this is the case of many rape survivors. Flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive memories are extremely common especially in the first few months following the assault. If your nervous system remains “stuck” in the long term and you develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they can last much longer.
To reduce the stress of flashbacks and upsetting memories:
- Try to anticipate and prepare for triggers- common triggers include anniversary dates; people or places associated with the rape; and certain sights, sounds or smells. If you are aware of what triggers may cause an upsetting reaction, you will be in a better position to understand what’s happening and take steps to calm down.
- Pay attention to your body’s danger signals-your body and emotions give you clues when you’re starting to feel stressed and unsafe. These clues include feeling tense, holding your breath, racing thoughts, shortness of breath, hot flashes, dizziness and nausea.
- Take immediate steps to self- soothe– when you notice any of the above symptoms, it is important to quickly act to calm yourself down before they spiral out of control. One of the quickest and most effective ways to calm anxiety and panic is to slow down your breathing.
Since your nervous system is in a hypersensitive state following a rapeor assault, you may start to numb yourself or avoid any associations with the trauma. But you can selectively numb your feelings. When you shut down the unpleasant sensations, you also shut down your self-awareness and capacity for joy. You end up disconnecting both emotionally and physically-existing but not fully living.
Signs that you’re avoiding and numbing in unhelpful ways:
- Feeling separate from your body or surroundings (you may feel like you’re watching yourself or the situation you’re in rather participating in it).
- Having trouble concentrating and remembering things.
- Using stimulants, risky activities or physical pain to feel alive and counteract the empty feelings inside of you.
- Compulsively using drugs or alcohol.
- Escaping through fantasies, daydreams or excessive TV, video games, etc.
- Feeling detached from the world, the people in your life and the activities you used to enjoy.
To recover after rape, you need to reconnect to your body and feelings so that you can feel safer, confident and powerful; it can be achieved through the following techniques:
- Rhythmic movement– rhythm can be very healing, it helps us relax and regain sense of control over bodies. Anything that combines rhythm and movement will work: dancing, drumming, and marching. You can even incorporate it into your walking or running routine by concentrating on the back and forth movements of your arm arms and legs.
- Mindfulness meditation– you can practice mindfulness meditation anywhere, even when you’re walking or eating. Simply focus on what you’re feeling in the present movement- including any bodily sensations and emotions. The goal is to observe without judgment.
- Massage– after rape, you may feel uncomfortable with human touch but touching and being touched is an important way we give and receive affection and comfort. You can begin to reopen yourself to human contact through massage therapy.
It’s common to feel isolated and disconnected from others following sexual assault. You may feel tempted to withdraw from social activities and loved ones but it’s important to stay connected to life and the people who care about you. Support from other people is vital to recovery but remember that doesn’t mean that you always have to talk about or dwell on what happened. Having fun and laughing with people who care about you can be equally healing.
Participate in social activities even if you don’t feel like it. Do “normal” things with other people, things that have nothing to do with the sexual trauma.
Reconnect with old friends– if you’ve retreated from relationships that were once important to you, make the effort to reconnect.
Make new friends– if you live alone or far from family and friends, try to reach out and make new friends. Take a class or join a club to meet people with similar interests or reach out to neighbors or work colleagues.
Healing from sexual trauma is a gradual, ongoing process. It doesn’t happen overnight nor do the memories of the trauma ever disappear completely. This can make life seem difficult at times but there are many steps you can cope with the residual symptoms and reduce your anxiety and fear.
Take time to rest and restore your body’s balance– that means taking a break when you’re tired and avoiding the temptation to lose yourself by throwing yourself into activities. Avoid doing anything compulsively including working. If you’re having trouble relaxing and letting down your guard, you may benefit from relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga.
Be smart about media consumption– avoid watching any program that could trigger bad memories or flashbacks. This includes obvious things such as news reports about sexual violence and sexual explicit TV shows and movies. But you may also want to temporarily avoid anything that’s over-stimulating including social media.
Take care of yourself physically– it’s always important to eat right, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep but even more so when you’re healing from trauma. Exercise in particular can soothe your traumatized nervous system, relieve stress and help you feel in control of your body.
Avoid alcohol and drugs– avoid the temptation to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Substance use worsens many symptoms of trauma including emotional numbing, social isolation, anger and depression. It also interferes with treatment and contributes to problems at home and in your relationships.
How to help someone recover from rape or sexual trauma
When a spouse, partner, sibling or other loved ones has been raped or sexually assaulted, it can generate painful emotions and take a heavy toll on your relationship. You may feel angry and frustrated, be desperate for your relationship to return to how it was before the assault or even want to retaliate against your loved one’s attacker. But it’s your patience, understanding and support that your loved one needs now, not more displays of aggression or violence.
Let your loved know that you still love them and reassure them that the assault was not their fault.
Allow your loved one to open up at their pace– some victims of sexual assault find it very difficult to talk about what happened, others may need to talk about what happened over and over again. This can make you feel alternately frustrated or uncomfortable. But don’t try to force your loved one to open up or urge them to stop rehearsing the past. Instead, let them know that you are there to listen whenever they want to talk.
Encourage your loved one to seek help but don’t pressurize– following the trauma of rape or sexual assault, many people feel totally disempowered. You can help your loved one to regain a sense of control by not pushing. Encourage them to reach out for help but let them make the final decision. Take cues from your loved as to how best you can provide support.
Show empathy and caution about physical intimacy– it’s common for someone who’s been sexually assaulted to shy away from physical touch, but at the same time its important they don’t feel those close to them are emotionally withdrawing or that they have been somehow been “tarnished” by the attack. As well as expressing affection verbally, seek permission to hold or touch your loved. In the case of a spouse or sexual partner, understand your loved one will likely need time to regain a sense of control over their life and before desiring sexual intimacy.
Take care of yourself– the calmer, relaxed and focused you are, the better you will be able to help your loved one. Manage your own stress and reach out to others for support.
Be patient– healing from sexual trauma takes time. Flashbacks, nightmares, fear and other symptoms of PTSD can persist long after physical injuries have healed.
In conclusion, RAPE is never a pleasant experience!
Thank you for your audience.
- ‘Biastophilia- rape as a form of paraphilia’ by Thomas Knecht.
- ‘Rape and communication media strategies in Nigeria’ by Omolola Tosan and Osakue Stephenson.
- ‘Recovering from rape’ by Melinda Smith, MA and Jeanne.
- ‘Prevention of sexual assault in Nigeria’ by postgraduate medicine- Association of Resident Doctors, University college hospital, Ibadan, Nigeria.
- ‘The safest skill in the world – instinct’ by Carol Gautschi during Midwifery Today conference in Europe.
- ‘A systematic literature review of rape victim versus rape survivors: implications for theory, research and Practice’ by Jericho Hocketh and Donald Saucier.
- ‘Youth sexual violence prevention’ by Patricia Cook- Criag and Mitru Ciarlante.
- ‘Paraphilias’ by Traci C. Johnson.
- ‘A review of rape literature- crime and social justice’ by Schwendiger,Julia R. and Herman Schwendiger.
- ‘Primary prevention strategies for sexual violence perpetration’ by Segue S. Et all.
- ‘Sin and suffering’ by Rev. Fr. Jude Onebunne.