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Resilience and

Recovery from Rape


Jane Slomski
November 30, 2007

• Rape is a pervasive medical, legal,

psychological, and social problem
• Affects people of all races, genders
and SES
• Survivors must make difficult
decisions after the trauma, at a time
when they are least psychologically
equipped to do so
• PTSD is common in rape survivors
• Support from individuals, families,
and communities is essential
Legal Definitions of Rape

• Virginia State Code 18.2-61:If any person

has sexual intercourse with a complaining
witness, whether or not his or her spouse,
or causes a complaining witness, whether
or not his or her spouse, to engage in
sexual intercourse with any other person
and such act is accomplished (i) against
the complaining witness's will, by force,
threat or intimidation of or against the
complaining witness or another person; or
(ii) through the use of the complaining
witness's mental incapacity or physical
helplessness; or (iii) with a child under age
13 as the victim, he or she shall be guilty of
Labeling an Experience as Rape

• Is labeling an experience as rape

necessary for recovery?
• Those who label their experience
have greater incidence of PTSD
symptoms/ long-term decreased
physical and psychological well-
• Those who do not may experience
less severe emotional reactions
• Some argue, could be necessary
for a survivor to fully “integrate” their
Labeling and Reporting

• Relationship between victim and

perpetrator is key
• Intimate partner rape is less likely to
be reported than acquaintance or
stranger rape
• Belief in a “blitz” rape script
• Amount of force/injury suffered in
• Peer influence/ Acceptance of
aggressiveness in sexual
• History of sexual victimization
Sociological Theories of Sexual

• Social Disorganization
– Communities with decreased law enforcement
presence, gangs, transient or temporary
residents, and social decay have higher incidence
of sexual assaults
– Pazzani, (2007) found that social disorganization
was not correlated with increase in assault
• Feminist Theory
– Rape is a product of patriarchal values that give
men power over women
– Communities that value egalitarian roles of men
and women have fewer incidents of sexual
– Conservative Feminism: “ALL sexual intercourse
can be considered coercive because males are
generally stronger than females. “(??)
– Pazanni found that egalitarian societies do have
fewer incidents of assaults
Stranger vs. Acquaintance vs.
Intimate Rape

• Non-genital injuries characterized

intimate partner assaults
• Non-genital injuries are more
severe in intimate partner rape than
in acquaintance or stranger rape
(Logan, et al, 2007)
• Substance use most common in
acquaintance rape
– Issues of safety/sobriety during typical
“familiar” party rape, where women are
likely to feel comfortable and make
casual acquaintances
Characteristics of Offenders

• Typical psychological characteristics:

– Poor intimacy skills
– Low self esteem
– Loneliness
– Inability to cope/cope with sex
– Lack of empathy
– Cognitive distortions
• Cognitive Distortions
– Sexual offenders more likely to misinterpret social cues
and perceive things in ways that justify their offenses.
• Reasons for offending
– Rapists
• Anger, retribution
– Child molesters
• Sexual gratification, intimacy
• Lower Self esteem than rapists
Social Attitudes and Community

• Rape survivors must contend with

reactions of family, friends, and society
when they reveal their experience
• Fear being blamed, shamed, or ostracized
• Marital rape is perceived differently from
other kinds of rape (Munge et al)
– “Less serious” in general
– Responsibility is assumed using length of
marriage and fidelity of the wife
– Shorter marriage = less traumatic
– Wife who commits adultery is more
“responsible” for being raped than a wife
who is faithful to her husband
Men’s Attitudes About Sexual

• Rape tactics common in 55-74% of

college aged men
• Sexually aggressive men consume
more alcohol than non-aggressive
• Sexual violence correlated with rigid
gender roles and stereotypes,
psychopathology, and sensation
seeking behaviors, past history of
sexual violence, and hyper-
masculine attitudes
Coping With Rape: Disclosing
the Experience

• Women are more likely to disclose first to

informal supports (friends, family) than
formal supports (police, medical
• Positive reactions of support persons
(empathy, belief, understanding, offers of
physical and emotional support) promote
healing and resiliency in survivors
• Negative reactions (blame, anger,
indifference) increase psychological
trauma, likelihood of PTSD may revictimize
the survivor
• Acute Stress Disorder is more likely to
advance to full PTSD
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

• Extremely common reaction to sexual

• Symptoms:
– Hypervigilance, anxiety, depression, panic
– Sleep difficulty, flashbacks
– Difficulty with personal and intimate
relationships, sexual dysfunction
• Assault severity, offender violence, severity
of sexual acts, and physical injury, self-
blame, multiple victimizations, and
avoidance coping are highly correlated with
• As assault severity increases, survivors
may be less likely to blame themselves
and more likely to label it as rape
Avoidance Coping

• Natural coping mechanism that

occurs immediately following rape
– Denial, suppression- avoid stressful
– Person feels overwhelmed, lacks
sufficient resources to deal with trauma
– May be healthy way of dealing with
acute trauma; but can be maladaptive
in the long-term
– Approach coping more healthy for long-
term processing of trauma: therapeutic
interventions, talking about experience,
accepting lack of control in situation
World Views and Schemas

• Rape alters a person’s view of the world

and their personal schemas
• Assimilation: integrate rape as something
that “just happened”; does not appear to
alter behavior of survivor
• Accommodation: Change schemas and
world views to include experience of rape;
but do not let it “take over” their lives
• Over-accommodation: World/people are
now “all bad,” threat, evil is everywhere.
Survivor can no longer trust anyone
– Common in acute phases, but maladaptive
in long-term

• Attachment Theory: Adult women who

have secure relationships with their
parents are more resilient and able to
cope; due to confidence in social support
and certainty of resources
– Less severe ASD and PTSD symptoms
• Insecure adults are less able to cope: No
basis for security; not able to identify or
use resources available to them; no social
• Overall, social support, availability of
emotional and physical resources, and
positive reactions of formal support
systems insure higher resilience
Agency Responses to Rape

• Ullman & Townsend (2007),

Workers identified largest problems
with agency response:
– Denial of the problem of rape
– Racism, sexism, societal attitudes
– Lack of funding, poor salaries for
– High turnover, burnout
– Professionalism/Standardization
• Anti-feminist attitudes
– Lack of availability/accessibility of
resources and services

• Fairfax County Victim and Witness Assistance

Program (703) 264-2141
• Northern Virginia Family Service www.nvfs.org
• Fairfax County Adult Protective Services and Child
Protective Services
(703) 324-7450/ (703) 324-7400
• Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline
• Violence Intervention Program
• DC Rape Crisis Center 202-333-RAPE
• Men Can Stop Rape www.mencanstoprape.org
(202) 265-6530
• Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington,
D.C. (703) 533-5651

• Ahrens, C., Campbell, R., Ternier-Thames, N., Wasco, S., & Sefl, T. (2007, March). Deciding whom to tell:
Expectations and outcomes of rape survivors' first disclosures. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31(1), 38-49.
Retrieved November 29, 2007, from PsycINFO database.
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sexual assault. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 28(8), 867-881. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from
PsycINFO database.
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13(4), 355-370. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from PsycINFO database
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2007, from PsycINFO database.
• Littleton, H., & Breitkopf, C. (2006, March). Coping with the experience of rape. Psychology of Women
Quarterly, 30(1), 106-116. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from PsycINFO database.
• Logan, T., Cole, J., & Capillo, A. (2007, August). Differential characteristics of intimate partner, acquaintance,
and stranger rape survivors examined by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). Journal of Interpersonal
Violence, 22(8), 1066-1076. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from PsycINFO database.
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Aggression, 13(1), 3-9. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from PsycINFO database.
• McMullin, D., & White, J. (2006, March). Long-term effects of labeling a rape experience. Psychology of
Women Quarterly, 30(1), 96-105. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from PsycINFO database.
• Munge, B., Pomerantz, A., Pettibone, J., & Falconer, J. (2007, October). The influence of length of marriage
and fidelity status on perception of marital rape. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(10), 1332-1339.
Retrieved November 29, 2007, from PsycINFO database.
• Pazzani, L. (2007, July). The factors affecting sexual assaults committed by strangers and acquaintances.
Violence Against Women, 13(7), 717-749. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from PsycINFO database.
• Pervan, S., & Hunter, M. (2007). Cognitive distortions and social self-esteem in sexual offenders. Applied
Psychology in Criminal Justice, 3(1), 75-91. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from PsycINFO database.
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• Ullman, S., Townsend, S., Filipas, H., & Starzynski, L. (2007, March). Structural models of the relations of
assault severity, social support, avoidance coping, self-blame, and PTSD among sexual assault survivors.
Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31(1), 23-37. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from PsycINFO database.
• Virginia State Code 18.2-61: Rape
• Warkentin, J., & Gidycz, C. (2007, July). The use and acceptance of sexually aggressive tactics in college
men. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(7), 829-850. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from PsycINFO