Child on Child Sexual Abuse

My first abuse was by a girl when I was 11 or 12. She was my age and I have struggled to understand why and how I could allow someone to do that to me. And yes, I know no child allows abuse. The more and more I read on the topic of Child on Child, Same Sex Sexual Abuse and Rape, the more I can come to terms with the abuse I endured. My issue, finding those like me who actually speak out about their abuse. Not many straight women admit to being same sex sexually abused as a child. Talk about taboo. I thought child-on-child abuse outside of family was taboo too, but apparently there is enough info about it to have others write about it. I don’t think I could say it any better than this, so I wanted to share.

the secret behind closed doors

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Child-on-child sexual abuse refers to a form of child sexual abuse in which a prepubescent child is sexually abused by one or more other children or adolescent youths, and in which no adult is directly involved. The term describes sexual activity between children that occurs without consent, without equality, or as a result of coercion.This includes when one of the children uses physical force, threats, trickery or emotional manipulation to elicit cooperation. Child-on-child sexual abuse is further differentiated from normative sexual play or anatomical curiosity and exploration (i.e. “playing doctor”) because of overt and deliberate actions directed at sexual stimulation or orgasm. In many instances, the initiator exploits the other child’s naïveté, and the victim is unaware of the nature of what is happening to them. When sexual abuse is perpetrated by one sibling upon another, it is known as “inter-sibling abuse”

The incidence of child-on-child sexual…

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Fight, Flight, or Freeze Reactions

“When human beings are faced with danger, their adrenal glands flood their bodies with either adrenaline or noradrenaline. Adrenaline energizes the body in the fight or flight mode; noradrenaline creates a freeze reaction, or the numbing of the body and the emotions. This freeze reaction also can be caused by the endogenous opioid system, one of the body’s natural calming systems, which diminishes physical sensations and the intensity of emotional reactions.

As a result of these involuntary physiological reactions, during a sexual assault, the woman doesn’t have the power to decide whether she is going to fight back, try to run (flight), or go limp (freeze). His/her adrenal glands and neurohormones do. The same holds true when she is exposed to a reminder of the assault, also called a “trigger.” When exposed to a trigger, even if she is safe, her body responds as if she is being attacked.

If she responds with an adrenaline surge, leading to a fight or flight reaction, she may experience symptoms such as the startle response, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, and increased nightmares and flashbacks. If she responds with a noradrenaline urge, she may have a numbing or freeze reaction. Or, she may alternate between the symptoms or fight or flight reactions and the symptoms of a freeze reaction.”

(The Rape Recovery Handbook, Chapter 4, Coping Skills)

From Victim to Survivor to Thriver

Abuse can come in plenty of forms and the road to recovery can be hard…this is a list of what the stages of recovery are that goes on in the heart. It is normal to grow and heal in stages and your thoughts might be all over the board. Someone might be strong in some thoughts, while weaker in other thoughts. This list shows where your mind is and its normal to identify with the victim in some categories, and the survivor in other categories and the thriver in other categories…healing is a work in progress….

  • Victim  Doesn’t deserve nice things or trying for the “good life”
  • Survivor  Struggling for reasons & chance to heal
  • Thriver  Gratitude for everything in life.
  • Victim  Low self esteem/shame/unworthy
  • Survivor  Sees self as wounded & healing
  • Thriver  Sees self as an overflowing miracle
  • Victim  Hyper vigilant
  • Survivor  Using tools to learn to relax
  • Thriver  Gratitude for new life
  • Victim  Alone
  • Survivor  Seeking help
  • Thriver  oneness.
  • Victim  Feels Selfish
  • Survivor  Deserves to seek help
  • Thriver  Proud of Healthy Self caring
  • Victim  Damaged
  • Survivor  Naming what happened
  • Thriver  Was wounded & now healing
  • Victim  Confusion & numbness
  • Survivor  Learning to grieve, grieving past aggrieved trauma
  • Thriver  Grieving at current losses
  • Victim  Overwhelmed by past
  • Survivor  Naming & grieving what happened
  • Thriver  Living in the present
  • Victim  Hopeless
  • Survivor  Hopeful
  • Thriver  Faith in self & life
  • Victim  Uses outer world to hide from self
  • Survivor  Stays with emotional pain
  • Thriver  Understands that emotional pain will pass & brings new insights
  • Victim  Hides their story
  • Survivor  Not afraid to tell their story to safe people.
  • Thriver  Beyond telling their story, but always aware they have created their own healing with HP
  • Victim  Believes everyone else is better, stronger, less damaged
  • Survivor  Comes out of hiding to hear others & have compassion for them & eventually self
  • Thriver  Lives with an open heart for self & others
  • Victim  Often wounded by unsafe others
  • Survivor  Learning how to protect self by share, check, share
  • Thriver  Protects self from unsafe others
  • Victim  Places own needs last
  • Survivor  Learning healthy needs (See Healing the Child Within & Gift to Myself)
  • Thriver  Places self first realizing that is the only way to function & eventually help others
  • Victim  Creates one drama after another
  • Survivor  See patterns
  • Thriver  Creates peace
  • Victim  Believes suffering is the human condition
  • Survivor  Feeling some relief, knows they need to continue in recovery
  • Thriver  Finds joy in peace
  • Victim  Serious all the time
  • Survivor  Beginning to laugh
  • Thriver  Seeing the humour in life
  • Victim  Uses inappropriate humour, including teasing
  • Survivor  Feels associated painful feelings instead
  • Thriver  Uses healthy humour
  • Victim  Uncomfortable, numb or angry around toxic people
  • Survivor  Increasing awareness of pain & dynamics
  • Thriver  Healthy boundaries around toxic people, incl. relatives
  • Victim  Lives in the past
  • Survivor  Aware of patterns
  • Thriver  Lives in the Now
  • Victim  Angry at religion
  • Survivor  Understanding the difference between religion & personal spirituality
  • Thriver  Enjoys personal relationship with the God of their understanding
  • Victim  Suspicious of therapists– projects
  • Survivor  Sees therapist as guide during projections
  • Thriver  Sees reality as their projection & owns it
  • Victim  Needs people & chemicals to believe they are all right
  • Survivor  Glimpses of self-acceptance & fun without others 
  • Thriver  Feels authentic & connected, Whole
  • Victim  “Depression”
  • Survivor  Movement of feelings 
  • Thriver  Aliveness

I wish I knew where this article came from. A friend came shared it with me and I thought it was very insightful. 🙂

Things Not to Say to a Rape Victim

I’ve seen this floating around the internet for a while now. Out of all the do’s and don’ts that I have seen for this topic, this is by far the best one I’ve seen. Some of them may sound goofy or dumb, but I am sure some how somewhere someone was told that particular thing. It’s amazing that the only people who ever seem to read these things are rape victims hoping that someone they know will be sincere enough. Or at least that’s my opinion. I hope everyone takes a minute to read over these. Chances are, you know someone affected by sexual assault. Many victims (like myself) stay silent for many reasons. We need to help break the silence once and for all. The victims did nothing wrong… the rapists did.

Ways to Help

Your loved one may need your help right now, but be unable to ask for it. I hope you’ll consider offering it. You can help her heal more than you know.

Believe him or her. This is the most important thing you can do. Even if the assault or abuse happened many years ago, she needs to be believed now.

Validate the emotions your loved one expressed. Healing from sexual assault presents survivors with a myriad of feelings. Your loved one has every right to each of his unique feelings.

Offer a somewhat detached perspective. It may be easier for your friend to talk about rape and sexual assault if you respond by letting her know that you care about what happened to her, but avoid showing very strong emotional reactions. This is because many of us feel somehow responsible for our supporter’s feelings about the sexual violence. Of course, you probably do have strong feelings about it and will need support for them. Try to avoid depending on the survivor for that support.

Offer practical support. Your friend may find that organizing her life is difficult while she is in crisis. You can help by offering to help. For instance, she may need help moving out of her apartment or she may be nervous about attending her first counseling session. Just by offering your help, she will know that you care and if she needs you, she’ll be able take you up on it.

Call her and make plans with her. While I was in crisis, healing from my rape, the friends I most appreciated would call me up, with a suggested activity and a date and time. Your friend may be feeling to overwhelmed to pick up the phone and make plans with you, but she will probably appreciate it if you do.

Let her know you are thinking of her. Send flowers, a card or a note. Knowing that you care will lift her spirits during the tough times. I still keep notes from thoughtful friends and sometimes am moved to tears by the love they extended to me.

Express your anger in a controlled manner. Your loved one has likely experienced her rape as violent and out of control. Expressions of heated anger will likely make her feel further out of control.

Educate yourself. Sexual assault triggers a wide range of emotions. Your loved one may find herself becoming anxious, disassociated from her feelings, or depressed. If you educate yourself about the responses to sexual assault, you’ll be better prepared to help her deal with his.

Take time for yourself. Talking to someone in such pain can be difficult. Take the time that you need. You’ll do more help by stepping back for a moment than you will by listening resentfully.

Most importantly, let her know she can talk to you. Your compassionate, listening ear is the best you have to give her. Let her know that you are not afraid to listen to what she has to say. However, please bear in mind that she may not always want to talk about her feelings about her assault. Sometimes it is just too difficult, but knowing that you are available can be enough to get her through the painful times.

There are many ways that you can help a friend or family member who has been a victim of rape or sexual violence:

Listen. Be there. Don’t be judgmental. Be patient. Remember, it will take your loved one some time to deal with the crime. Help to empower your loved one. Rape and sexual violence are crimes that take away an individual’s power, it is important not to compound this experience by putting pressure on your loved one to do things that he or she is not ready to do yet.

It is also important to note that having a friend or family member who is raped or assaulted can be a very upsetting experience. For this reason it is also important that you take care of yourself. Even if your friend and family member isn’t ready to talk, you can get support for yourself.

Things to Say

Many people do not know what to say when a friend is talking about sexual assault. Most of the time, your supportive listening ear is all that is needed. Please bear in mind that your friend has had total control taken from her and is probably struggling to reclaim it. Offering ideas and suggestions is a better idea than giving direct advice. It is not always necessary to come up with the perfect words, but here are a few ideas.

You are on my mind. How are you? How can I help you? Can I do anything to make things better for you right now? I’m glad you told me. It just happened to you. You didn’t cause it and you didn’t deserve it. I’ll support you no matter what you decide to do. What would you like to do next? It’s okay of you are at a loss for words. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. You are doing the very best you can.

What Not to Say

Talking about sexual assault is very difficult for a survivor. If she is telling you about what happened, she is probably revealing a very intimate part of herself to you. She deserves to be believed and treated with respect. If you have said any of these things, though, you could probably just apologize and she’ll feel a lot better.

Silence: When I told others about my rape, embarrassed silence felt like shame to me. “I’m so sorry,” is a good reaction.

Any sort of minimizing statement: “It could have been worse,” “Don’t think about it,” “Life goes on,” and statements that ignore what we are feeling are likely to be received as minimizing our pain and it will hurt. A simple “I’m so glad you are here with me. It will take time, but you will get through this. I am here for you as you do,” will make your friend feel better.

“You’ve got to move on with your life.” — Healing is the survivor’s life right now. She’s doing the work she needs to do so she can feel whole again.

Statements that begin with “You need to…” — Please respect her enough to let her decide what she needs to do. She may, however, appreciate it if you pointed out options by rephrasing those statements to begin with “You could…”

“What did you do to cause it?” — The survivor did nothing to cause what happened. Nothing about her could provoke a normal person to assault her. The blame lies on her attacker.

“It doesn’t sound like it was a bad rape.” — Since rape is prevalent in our society, a lot of people think it is no big deal. However, having an unwanted object put inside of your body is just about the most violating and violent thing that can happen to a person, even if there are no wounds or bruises. Please don’t minimize what happened to your loved one.

“Isn’t it time you got over this?” — Healing from sexual assault takes time and sometimes things just come up to remind a survivor of what she endured. Healing from trauma cannot be neatly enclosed into a time limit.

“He didn’t actually rape you.” — If someone attempted to rape your friend, but was not able to complete it, she may very well feel horrible. After my rape, I found myself questioning the humanity of others. How could someone have wanted to do this to me? Did I provoke this? What does this say about my humanity and the humanity of others? It is likely that your friend is having similar questions.

“If this were true, you would have reported it.” — If we went by statistics, rape and child abuse would, in fact, seem rare. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2000, only 28% of rapes were reported in 1999. Of sexually abused children in grades five through twelve 48% of the boys and 29% of the girls told no one about the abuse, not even a friend or sibling. Many people do not report for a myriad of reasons, but that does not mean it did not happen.

“I’m going to kill him.” — This will probably frighten her. You have every right to be angry, but please keep her feelings in mind. A simple, “It makes me very angry that you were violated,” said calmly will validate her feelings and will probably not frighten her.

“You knew/were married to him. It can’t be rape.” 62% of female survivors knew their assailant. 43% of survivors are raped by a friend or acquaintance. 17% were raped by an intimate (NCVS, 2000). The rapist is very rarely a masked man jumping out of the bushes.

“Why didn’t you report it?” — Sometimes this question is asked out of honest curiosity, but a lot of survivors will see it as a criticism of their choices.

“Can we talk about something else? This is disgusting.” — What was done to your friend is unconscionable, but she is not. Don’t make her feel as though she is.

“You are doing this for attention. I very much doubt that your friend is trying to call attention to herself by making herself known as “The Victim of Sexual Violence,” It’s not a title many people want.

“Move on. It happened so long ago.” A survivor would like nothing more than to be able to “move on.” That is not possible without processing the resulting feelings. To do so, she needs to talk. Please don’t silence her as she moves through the process. Perhaps you could tell her you are glad she is dealing with it now.

“He would never do that!” Rapists can be anyone. They can be the most popular boy in school, they can be a friend’s brother. It is doubtful that your friend is lying. A better thing to say would be, “There is no way you could have known he would do that.”

“But you went out on a date with him.” Date rape is very common. Going on a date does not make a person obligated to have sex.

“Why didn’t you scream or fight?” Rape is often seen as a life threatening experience. In life threatening instances, humans fight, freeze, or flee. Your friend may have frozen, which is a very common response. She may already be asking herself those questions. What she needs from you is reassurance that it is a totally normal reaction and does not excuse the rapist’s actions

And here are some more… We’re still your friends, family, wives, moms, students, husbands, teachers, doctors, brothers and loved ones. There’s no need to back off or be scared of us. For the most part these suggestions are pretty easy to avoid, as you will see in a minute. Please don’t…

  1. Ask if we liked it. No one likes being physically overpowered.
  2. Tell us “it’s just sex”. Rape is a crime of power, control, and extreme violence where sex is used as a weapon against someone weaker. It is not sex.
  3. Tell us how we could have avoided it. Believe me, if we could have prevented it we would have.
  4. Make fun of us. We have faced an attacker who sometimes is willing to kill and have survived. What’s there to make fun of?
  5. Tell us it would never happen to you and why. We didn’t think we would become statistics either.
  6. There’s no need to avoid us. We’re still the same person you’ve come to care about or learned to care about. We’ve just been unspeakably hurt. We’re not contagious.
  7. Please don’t treat us like we have the plague. Chances are we don’t. Do you?
  8. God isn’t punishing us for some misdeed by allowing this to happen. God helps us heal. He doesn’t send someone to hurt His people.
  9. Don’t tell us it was God’s will we were raped. Do tell us it was God’s will that we survived!
  10. Don’t disbelieve us. According to survey respondents being disbelieved is a survivor’s greatest fear.
  11. Don’t tell us that survivors make up tales for attention. According to The National Coalition Against Sexual Assault false rape reports only happen 2% of the time. That’s a 98% chance that no matter how strange it sounds to you the rape isn’t being abricated.
  12. Don’t tell me not to talk about it. Yes it upsets me to talk about it but that is the only way that I can sort through it.
  13. Don’t say, “It happened on a date, that’s common”. When you say that, it belittles me and my feelings about the assault. It’s not common because it happened to me and I’m not a statistic.
  14. Don’t say “other people have it worse off than you”. I’m not “other people”. I’m me.
  15. Don’t feel you need to retaliate against our attacker. We know the perpetrator is capable of violence. Please don’t make us worry about you being hurt. We’ll feel more secure knowing you’ll remain in one piece.
  16. Don’t blame us for what happened. It’s not our fault.
  17. Don’t tell us to “get over it”. We would if we could and we are trying our best. Support us as we struggle to find our way again.
  18. Don’t tell us to put what happened out of our minds. It’s not that simple.
  19. Don’t tell us “it’s no big deal”. Rape is an enormous challenge to heal from. It haunts even our dreams.
  20. If we disagree about safety issues in the future please realize that what may sound strange to you may help us feel safe.
  21. Don’t say something like, “Well, it’s been six months (a year, 5 years etc.) and ask if we’re “over it” yet. Chances are that we may not be ready to go back to life as it was. We may never be ready and may have to create a new life for ourselves as we learn to be safe again.
  22. Don’t tell us we are weak because it impacts our life. We are stronger than words can describe.
  23. Don’t ask us what you are supposed to do to get past what happened to us. We aren’t sure what we’re going to do.
  24. Don’t ask us if we did this on purpose. We didn’t do anything except survive.
  25. Don’t ask us if we couldn’t have done something differently during the attack. We made the best choices we could to survive. We got away without being killed didn’t we? That’s proof our instincts were right. Please help us learn to realize that ourselves.
  26. Don’t tell us that it’s not rape because we knew the attacker. Numerous studies tell us that our perpetrators are more likely to be known to us than unknown.
  27. If you give us a hug and we pull away please know that chances are we’re not rejecting you. We may have a hard time being able to respond right now.
  28. If we do pull away from you please don’t get mad. Tell us you care. Chances are you’ll get that hug after all!
  29. If you’re together and the survivor has a flashback, try not to be mad at the survivor. We hate the darned things too! Flashbacks are always rough. It’s difficult to know what to do. It’s got to be difficult to watch. Any anger should go the one who caused the rape and not the survivor who has to put her life together.
  30. Don’t be afraid to talk to us if we’re upset. Knowing you are there may be just what we need.
  31. If we become suicidal please don’t take that as a sign of weakness. Take that as a sign we’re overwhelmed, trying to cope, and need help.
  32. Don’t pretend rape doesn’t happen to people you know. It does.
  33. Don’t get the idea rape just happens to “those” kinds of people. This crime happens to as many as 1 woman in 4 crossing ethnic, racial, economic and social boundaries.
  34. Don’t be afraid of a person who was raped. I promise as a survivor, the rape will affect you but won’t rub off on you. The person you love is still the same person as before.
  35. Don’t deny your feelings after finding out a friend was raped. Call a rape crisis center’s hotline and find out what support is available for you.
  36. Do not tell us we should take it as a compliment. Rape isn’t about lust or attractiveness, it’s an act of power and force.
  37. Do not tell us “Oh yeah, I know a bunch of girls who’ve been raped” as if it were no big deal. We realize we aren’t the only ones but by saying that it belittles how it hurts by making it just another number.

Understanding what Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is

I have found that one way to help understand what you feel after being raped is to understand what RTS is. Rape Trauma Syndrome affects many victims, whether it happened last week or seven years ago (as in my case). When I searched online, I found a few different articles that tried to explain what RTS is. All seemed to have a lot of different, but valuable material. So I merged all three websites information into one to help me (and others in my position) understand what it is they are going through. You are not alone.

Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is a form of psychological trauma experienced by a rape victim that consist of disruptions to normal physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and interpersonal characteristics. The theory was first described by psychiatrist Ann Wolbert Burgess and sociologist Lynda Lytle Holmstrom in 1974.

RTS describes a cluster of psychological and physical signs, symptoms and reactions common to most rape victims, during, immediately following, and for months or years after a rape. While most research into RTS has focused on female victims, males who are sexually abused (whether by male or female perpetrators) have also exhibited RTS symptoms. RTS also paved the way for consideration of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can more accurately describe the consequences of serious, protracted trauma than Post Traumatic Stress Disorder alone. The symptoms of RTS and Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome overlap; however, individually each syndrome can have long devastating effects on rape victims.

The severity of sexual violence is not determined by the aggressor, but by a survivor’s reaction to the event. Symptoms the rape survivor experiences that are both mental (emotional) and physical. The rape survivor will experience symptoms of physically reliving the rape, fear of seeing the assailant, fear of another attack, sleep disturbances, nightmares, fear, suspiciousness, anxiety, major depression, and impairment in social functions.

Common stages of RTS: RTS identifies three stages of psychological trauma a rape survivor goes through: the acute stage, the outer adjustment stage, and the renormalization stage.


The impact stage is the initial stage most survivors experience. The survivor may appear dazed, in a state of un-reality and struggling to comprehend the rape. There is a wide range of symptoms that rape survivors express during this time: from calm and controlling to hysterical and crying. Often the survivor will make comments like, “I can’t believe this happened to me” or some other shock-type of statement which disclaims the actuality of the traumatic event. The victim is realizing that their lifestyle has been completely disrupted. The most common reactions of this stage are:

Shock: The person appears to be on automatic pilot and may act as like they normally do. If this response does not work, then crisis sets in.

Denial: The person may refuse or avoid talking about the incident, or even try not to think about it. The person wants to forget what happened. This is usually a short-lived response.

Rationalization: Involves a lot of talking and repeating the same things over and over, often may appear to be void of emotions. It is usually a verbal processing of thoughts. A person might ask a lot of, “What if…” and “Why didn’t I…” questions.

During these first few days, the survivor may be concerned with decisions regarding medical care, police involvement, physical security, etc. He/She will probably be concerned with how significant others will respond to the assault. The survivor may still feel a loss of control. Sometimes signs of depression will serve to mask other feelings.


The acute stage occurs in the days or weeks after a rape. Durations vary as to the amount of time a survivor may remain in the acute stage. The immediate symptoms may last a few days to a few weeks and may overlap with the outward adjustment stage.

According to Scarse there is no “typical” response amongst rape victims. However, the U.S. Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) asserts that, in most cases, a rape survivor’s acute stage can be classified as one of three responses: expressed (“He or she may appear agitated or hysterical, [and] may suffer from crying spells or anxiety attacks”); controlled (“the survivor appears to be without emotion and acts as if ‘nothing happened’ and ‘everything is fine'”); or shock/disbelief (“the survivor reacts with a strong sense of disorientation. They may have difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or doing everyday tasks. They may also have poor recall of the assault”). Not all rape survivors show their emotions outwardly. Some may appear calm and unaffected by the assault.

Physical: Fatigue, soreness, pain, etc. Some are real and some are psychosomatic. Sleep pattern disturbances are common. The survivor usually has trouble sleeping or restless nights when they wake and cannot go back to sleep. Some will have nightmares and wake up screaming, etc. Eating pattern disturbances can include decreases appetite, nausea and vomiting or stomach pains. Symptoms specific to the attack could be the mouth and throat irritation caused by oral sex, vaginal discharge, bleeding, pain, swelling, etc., caused by anal sex.

Emotional: Primary symptoms include fear of death, injury, mutilation, etc. The survivor feels a combination of “thankful to be alive” and “fear of death” which is related to a loss of control. Shame, guilt, and anger are also symptoms that may be occurring.

Thoughts-Cognitive: Survivors will often try to suppress thoughts of the attack. Often when this approach is used the survivor suffers from flashbacks and nightmares. Most go through a rationalization process throughout the duration of syndrome- “What if..”, “If I had only…”, and “Why did this happen to me?”

Behaviors present in the acute stage can include:

  • Diminished alertness.
  • Numbness.
  • Dulled sensory, affective and memory functions.
  • Disorganized thought content.
  • Vomiting.
  • Nausea.
  • Paralyzing anxiety.
  • Pronounced internal tremor.
  • Obsession to wash or clean themselves.
  • Hysteria, confusion and crying.
  • Bewilderment.
  • Acute sensitivity to the reaction of other people.

The outward adjustment stage

Survivors in this stage seem to have resumed their normal lifestyle. However, they simultaneously suffer profound internal turmoil, which may manifest in a variety of ways as the survivor copes with the long-term trauma of a rape. In a 1976 paper, Burgess and Holmstrom note that all but 1 of their 92 subjects exhibited maladaptive coping mechanisms after a rape. The outward adjustment stage may last from several months to many years after a rape.

RAINN identifies five main coping strategies during the outward adjustment phase:

  • minimization (pretending ‘everything is fine’)
  • dramatization (cannot stop talking about the assault)
  • suppression (refuses to discuss the rape)
  • explanation (analyzes what happened)
  • flight (moves to a new home or city, alters appearance)

Other coping mechanisms that may appear during the outward adjustment phase include:

  • poor health in general.
  • continuing anxiety
  • sense of helplessness
  • hypervigilance
  • inability to maintain previously close relationships
  • experiencing a general response of nervousness known as the “startle response”
  • persistent fear and or depression at much higher rates than the general population.
  • mood swings from relatively happy to depression or anger
  • extreme anger and hostility (more typical of male or masculine victims than female or feminine victims)
  • sleep disturbances such as vivid dreams and recurring nightmares
  • insomnia, wakefulness, night terrors
  • flashbacks
  • dissociation (feeling like one is not attached to one’s body)
  • panic attacks
  • reliance on coping mechanisms, some of which may be beneficial (e.g., philosophy and family support), and others that may ultimately be counterproductive (e.g., self harm, drug, oralcohol abuse)

Lifestyle – Survivors in this stage can have their lifestyle affected in some of the following ways:

  • Their sense of personal security or safety is damaged.
  • They feel hesitant to enter new relationships.
  • Questioning their sexual identity or sexual orientation (more typical of men raped by other men).
  • Sexual relationships become disturbed. Many survivors have reported that they were unable to re-establish normal sexual relations and often shied away from sexual contact for some time after the rape. Some report inhibited sexual response and flashbacks to the rape during intercourse. Conversely, some rape survivors become hyper-sexual or promiscuous following sexual attacks, sometimes as a way to reassert a measure of control over their sexual relations.

Some rape survivors now see the world as a more threatening place to live after the rape so they will place restrictions on their lives so that normal activities will be interrupted. For example, they may discontinue previously active involvements in societies, groups or clubs, or a mother who was a survivor of rape may place restrictions on the freedom of her children.

Physiological responses

Whether or not they were injured during a sexual assault, rape survivors exhibit higher rates of poor health in the months and years after an assault, including acute somatoform disorders (physical symptoms with no identifiable cause). Physiological reactions such as tension headaches, fatigue, general feelings of soreness or localized pain in the chest, throat, arms or legs. Specific symptoms may occur that relate to the area of the body assaulted. Survivors of oral rape may have a variety of mouth and throat complaints, while survivors of vaginal or anal rape have physical reactions related to these areas.

Nature of the assault

  • The nature of the act, the relationship with the offender, the type and amount of force used, and the circumstances of the assault all influence the impact of an assault on the victim.
  • When the assault is committed by a stranger, fear seems to be the most difficult emotion to manage for many people.(Feelings of vulnerability arise).
  • More commonly, assaults are committed by someone the victim knows and trusts. May be heightened feelings of self-blame and guilt.

Underground stage

  • Victims attempt to return to their lives as if nothing happened.
  • May block thoughts of the assault from their minds and may not want to talk about the incident or any of the related issues. (They don’t want to think about it).
  • Victims may have difficulty in concentrating and some depression.
  • Dissociation and trying to get back to their lives before the assault.
  • The underground stage may last for years and the victim seems as though that they are “over it”, despite the fact the emotional issues are not resolved.

Reorganization stage

  • May return to emotional turmoil
  • It can be extremely frightening to people in this stage to once again find themselves in the same emotional pain.
  • Fears and phobias may develop. They may be related specificity to the assailant or the circumstances or the attack or they may be much more generalized.
  • Appetite disturbances such as nausea and vomiting. Rape survivors are also prone to developing anorexia nervosa and/or bulimia.
  • Nightmares, night terrors feel like they plague the victim.
  • Violent fantasies of revenge may also arise.

Phobias – A common psychological defense that is seen in rape survivors is the development of fears and phobias specific to the circumstances of the rape, for example:

  • A fear of being in crowds.
  • A fear of being left alone anywhere.
  • A fear of men.
  • A fear of breasts.
  • A fear of going out at all, agoraphobia.
  • A fear of being touched, hapnophobia.
  • Specific fears related to certain characteristics of the assailant, e.g. mustache, curly hair, the smell of alcohol or cigarettes, type of clothing or car.
  • Some survivors develop very suspicious, paranoid feelings about strangers.
  • Some feel a pervasive fear of most or all other people.


In this stage, the survivor begins to recognize their adjustment phase. Particularly important is recognizing the impact of the rape for survivors who were in denial, and recognizing the secondary damage of any counterproductive coping tactics (e.g., recognizing that one’s drug abuse began to help cope with the aftermath of a rape). Typical of male victims is a long interval between the sexual assault and the victim’s seeking psychotherapy—according to Lacey and Roberts, less than half of male victims sought therapy within six months and the average interval between assault and therapy was 2.5 years; King and Woollett’s study of over 100 male rape victims found that the mean interval between assault and therapy was 16.4 years.

During renormalization, the survivor integrates the sexual assault into their life so that the rape is no longer the central focus of their life. During this stage negative feelings such as guiltand shame become resolved and the survivor no longer blames themselves for the attack.

Typical statements of victims experiencing RTS

  • I’m going crazy.
  • I can’t remember what I wanted to do next.
  • I want to drink all the time, I just want to forget about it.
  • I can’t get to work on time or meet simple deadlines.
  • I’m having nightmares and flashbacks all the time.
  • I can’t eat or sleep.
  • All I want to do is eat.
  • I’ll never trust anyone again.
  • All I want to do is sleep.
  • Everything is just fine. Everyone is making such a big deal about this.


• The following are not the only emotions experienced by survivors. This is a list of a few of the most common.

NIGHTMARES: Nightmares are much more prevalent following the first few weeks following the assault or during times when the survivor is dealing with a lot of trauma. During the healing process, the survivor spends so many waking hours thinking about the assault that it can become overwhelming. These thoughts can even carry over into the survivors sleeping hours, becoming nightmares. When the survivor goes to bed, the brain is still working, trying to sort out the day’s thoughts. As a survivor sleeps, the thoughts continue. Those thoughts form into dreams. Before you know it, the survivor is dreaming about the assault.

ANGER: It is easy to see why the survivor is angry. His/Her power and control was taken away and the survivor is left to deal with the aftermath. In many cases, the survivor’s sense of security is stripped away, leaving the survivor feeling vulnerable. The survivor didn’t ask to have this done to them and now they are having work through all the issues surrounding the assault. The anger many be directed toward himself/herself, the rapist, therapist, family, friends, co-workers, etc.

SHOCK: A feeling of numbness might occur with the survivor. Many survivors state that they are on “automatic pilot”. This generally happens during the first few days following the assault.

DENIAL: Disbelief and denial by the survivor often occurs even when there is evidence to support the contrary: violence, forceful isolation, restraint, verbal threats, etc. Many survivors recall denying to themselves that they were being raped. Following the assault, some will make statements like, “That did not just happen to me.”

SELF-BLAME: Many survivors feel betrayed by their own judgment. This can especially be true in cases of acquaintance rape. In cases of acquaintance rape, men/women that the survivor knew, men/women to whom they have trusted, men/women who they will most likely continue to see around, have turned on them in a terrible way. The feelings of self-blame begin as the survivor recognizes his/her inability to make the acquaintance rapist stop. Immediately after the rape, self-blame causes many survivors to try and shut the episode out of their minds. Also, self-blame is one of the reasons why survivors do not report the assault to authorities, in fear that others will blame them just as they blame themselves.

NOT FIGHTING BACK: After being raped, many survivors are angry with themselves for not fighting back harder, even though, at the time of the rape, most report feeling afraid for their lives. In retrospect, they think of ways they could have fought off the attack, screamed for help, or escaped. They often replay the assault in their minds, trying to come up with a different ending.

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