Violence Against Women: Psychology of Rape (1)

Violence Against Women: Psychology of Rape (1)


Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without that person’s consent. … The term rape is sometimes used interchangeably with the term sexual assault. (Wikipedia)



The exact definition of “rape” differs from state-to-state within the U.S. and by country internationally.  In the US, it is often called “criminal sexual conduct in the first degree”.  Generally, rape is defined as sexual contact or penetration achieved:

  • without consent, or
  • with use of physical force, coercion, deception, threat, and/or
  • when the victim is:
  • mentally incapacitated or impaired,
  • physically impaired (due to voluntary or involuntary alcohol or drug consumption)
  • asleep or unconscious.

One of the most critical issues regarding rape is consent. Sexual activity should not take place unless both parties have freely given consent, and consent is understood by both parties.

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    • silence does not mean consent.
    • if consent is given under duress (physical or emotional threats), then it is not given freely or willingly and sex with a person consenting under duress is rape
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  • if someone is impaired due to alcohol or drugs, that person is deemed incapable of consenting and sex with that person is rape (even if the impaired person says “yes”)



RAINN,the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization,has a helpful three-part checklist to help determine if what happened to you was rape or not.

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1) How old are the participants?
Depending on where the incident took place, a person under the age of 16 or 18 may not be legally capable of giving consent. Sexual contact with such a person is often considered “statutory rape”, even if the perpetrator did not know the victim was a minor.  “Statutory rape” laws vary widely, so please consult a legal expert in your jurisdiction for more information.2) Did both participants have the ability to consent?
If one party is somehow disabled, by age, disability, drugs, or alcohol, that person might not have had the capacity to agree to sex.  If the person lacks the capacity to consent, sexual activity with that person is rape.

3) Did both participants agree to engage in sexual conduct?
This area is often the hardest to determine. If physical force or threats were used to coerce someone into having sex, that sexual activity is rape. However, rape often isn’t violent. No means no, and silence does not mean yes. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had sex with the perpetrator before, or were married to him or her. If you’ve had sex before but do not consent the next time, yet your partner continues and has sexual activity with you, that is rape.  If you had already started, and then you say no, and your partner keeps going, that is rape. No means stop.


This is likely covered under your state’s or country’s sexual assault law.  Even if you’re not sure the law recognizes what happened was rape, if you were violated you have the right to hurt and the necessity to heal. No one should delegitimize what happened because there was no penetration. The violence involved in an attempted rape is legitimate and can have the same impact on the survivor as a completed rape. Also, remember that rape can include oral or anal penetration. This penetration is not limited to penile, but can include other body parts or objects. The legal definition of rape can be tricky, but remember that even if the law is not on your side, many others are. (Pandora’s Project)

And the women most vulnerable to sexual exploitation — those minors, those with mental illness; anyone new to the English language or language used in the certain country who may not know know her rights or her way around; First Nations and Inuit women; women who are poor or prostitutes and who are victims of incest — are also those least likely to get justice through the legal system.  (Pandora’s Project)



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Rape is sex you don’t agree to, including forcing a body part or object into your vagina, rectum (bottom), or mouth. Date rape is when you are raped by someone you know, like a boyfriend. Both are crimes. Rape is not about sex — it is an act of power by the rapist and it is always wrong.

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Date rape drugs, which often have no smell or taste, can be given to you without you knowing at parties or in a club — especially where alcohol is served. Alcohol can make you less aware of danger and make you less able to think clearly and resist sexual assault. If you are given date rape drugs, you may not be able to say “no” to unwanted sex and you may not be able to clearly remember what happened.



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Sexual assault and abuse is any kind of sexual activity that you do not agree to, including:

  • inappropriate touching
  • vaginal, anal, or oral sex
  • sex that you say ‘no’ to
  • rape
  • attempted rape
  • child molestation

Sexual assault can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. Examples of this are voyeurism (when someone watches private sexual acts), exhibitionism (when someone exposes him/herself in public), incest (sexual contact between family members), and sexual harassment. It can happen in different situations, by a stranger in an isolated place, on a date, or in the home by someone you know.



Date rape drugs are most commonly used to sexually assault a person. The drugs often have no color, smell, or taste and are easily added to drinks without the victim’s knowledge. These drugs usually cause a person to become helpless — they can hardly move and are not able to protect themselves from being hurt. People who have been given date rape drugs say they felt paralyzed or couldn’t see well, and had black-outs, problems talking, confusion, and dizziness. Date rape drugs can even cause death.

It’s hard to know whether a party, club, or concert you plan to go to will be dangerous. Drugs may not be at every party you go to, but you should still have a plan for keeping yourself and your friends safe no matter what.

  • Say “NO” to alcohol. Have water or soda instead.
  • Open your own drinks.
  • Don’t let other people hand you drinks.
  • Keep your drink with you at all times, even when you go to the bathroom.
  • Don’t share drinks.
  • Don’t drink from punch bowls or other large, common, open containers. They may already have drugs in them.
  • Don’t drink anything that tastes, looks, or smells strange. Sometimes, GHB tastes salty.
  • Always go to a party, club, or concert with someone you trust, such as a friend or an older brother or sister.
  • Stay away from “party drugs.” They can be pills, liquids, or powders. These drugs can also leave you disoriented and vulnerable. (


The three most common date rape drugs are:

  • Rohypnol (roh-HIP-nol). Rohypnol is the trade name for flunitrazepam (FLOO-neye-TRAZ-uh-pam). Abuse of two similar drugs appears to have replaced Rohypnol abuse in some parts of the United States. These are: clonazepam(marketed as Klonopin in the U.S. and Rivotril in Mexico) and alprazolam (marketed as Xanax). Rohypnol is also known as:
    • Circles
    • Forget Pill
    • LA Rochas
    • Lunch Money
    • Mexican Valium
    • Mind Erasers
    • Poor Man’s Quaalude
    • R-2
    • Rib
    • Roach
    • Roach-2
    • Roches
    • Roofies
    • Roopies
    • Rope
    • Rophies
    • Ruffies
    • Trip-and-Fall
    • Whiteys
  • GHB, which is short for gamma hydroxybutyric (GAM-muh heye-DROX-ee-BYOO-tur-ihk) acid. GHB is also known as:
    • Bedtime Scoop
    • Cherry Meth
    • Easy Lay
    • Energy Drink
    • G
    • Gamma 10
    • Georgia Home Boy
    • G-Juice
    • Gook
    • Goop
    • Great Hormones
    • Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH)
    • Liquid E
    • Liquid Ecstasy
    • Liquid X
    • PM
    • Salt Water
    • Soap
    • Somatomax
    • Vita-G
  • Ketamine (KEET-uh-meen), also known as:
      • Black Hole
      • Bump
      • Cat Valium
      • Green
      • Jet
      • K
      • K-Hole
      • Kit Kat
      • Psychedelic Heroin
      • Purple
      • Special K
      • Super Acid

These drugs also are known as “club drugs” because they tend to be used at dance clubs, concerts, and “raves.”

The term “date rape” is widely used. But most experts prefer the term “drug-facilitated sexual assault.” These drugs also are used to help people commit other crimes, like robbery and physical assault. They are used on both men and women. The term “date rape” also can be misleading because the person who commits the crime might not be dating the victim. Rather, it  could be an acquaintance or stranger. (



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Diana Jesson was a teenager sleeping over at a friend’s house the first time she was sexually assaulted. Her young age is not uncommon: 62 per cent of the women surveyed were under 18 for at least one of the sexual assaults they experienced.

“I didn’t know what to do,” she told Global News in an interview years later. She approached a family member she trusted.

“I told her what had happened. I said, ‘I need to go to police, this was wrong.’ She discouraged me. And it was brushed under the carpet. And I carried that for years.”

Jesson credits that initial fear, confusion and self-blame as a “precipice” for future abusive relationships. Fifteen years later, the violation no one else took seriously still stings.

“I was hurt. I was angry. I was distraught.”

But Jesson was the exception: She finally went to police. Finally, someone believed her. Charges were laid.

“It is vindication when the person is held accountable for what they’ve done.”

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The barriers begin as soon as a sexual assault survivor considers calling 911, says Beth Lyons, associate director of YWCA Moncton.

People from communities that have fraught relationships with police — whether trans, black, aboriginal, poor, of uncertain immigrant status or engaged in sex work — are reluctant to approach an authority they mistrust to report this most personal of crimes. New immigrants and people with limited English-language skills also face added challenges.

(It doesn’t help, she noted, that three Toronto police officers were charged last week with the gang sexual assault of one of their fellow officers while off-duty)

“There’s also the more societal, cultural part of it,” she added.

“If you’re identifying publicly as a sexual violence survivor you’re going to be dealing with folks suggesting that you lied. That you consented and then the next morning you changed your mind.

“A lot of it comes in the form of, ‘Well no woman asks for it, but…What was she doing? What was she wearing? Why was she behaving like that? What did she expect?’ It’s the ongoing shaming. And dealing with that while you’re dealing with the trauma of sexual assault can just be overwhelming.”

Assuming survivors do approach police, those interviews can be harrowing in and of themselves, said Mary Lou Fassel, legal director at Toronto’s Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic. Police often ask a woman about her psychiatric, legal, behavioural history. “They really should not be asking women those questions,” Fassel said. But not all women know they don’t have to answer them. “And, in most cases, she should say ‘No.’”

When sexual assault allegations against CBC personality Jian Ghomeshi first surfaced and police called on women to come forawrd, Fassel said, “we had more calls from [women] who were so upset at these comments, saying, ‘We went to police. They were not helpful at all. Police made me feel like I was not credible.’”


But Waterloo Regional Police Staff. Sgt. Kenneth Jesson said police have gotten “a lot better” in dealing with victims of sexual assault.

“They  can forward to law enforcement  and [feel] that we will listen to them, and all  the reports are taken seriously,” he said. “We have to ask  them some  hard  questions, obviously.  If they’ve been traumatized over an incident … we have to  get those specific  details, which is  pretty traumatizing for people.

“Not every system is perfect. … They  know  what  happened to them and that’s why, as investigators, we just want the truth.”

After that, she says, a Crown prosecutor may decide there isn’t enough likelihood of conviction to pursue the charge.

And it’s a challenging charge to prosecute.

rape kit—also known as a sexual assault kit (SAK), a sexual assault forensic evidence (SAFE) kit, a sexual assault evidence collection kit (SAECK), a sexual offense evidence collection (SOEC) kit, or a physical evidence recovery kit (PERK)—is a package of items used by medical personnel for gathering and preserving physical evidence following an allegation of sexual assault. The evidence collected from the victim can aid the criminal rape investigation and the prosecution of a suspected assailant. (en.wikipedia)


“In other kinds of crimes there’s more forensic evidence, there’s so much more corroborating evidence than there is in the privacy, the secrecy that surrounds sexual assault,” Fassel said.

“Clients call us in distress saying they just talked to the crown attorney and the case is going to be dropped and the only thing they’ve been told is prosecution is not feasible. So she’s left wondering.”

And if a case does go to trial, it can mean a sexual assault survivor spends years reliving the event. And despite a rape shield law designed to prevent this, she’ll likely find her past, her behaviour and her credibility dredged up during cross-examination as a defence lawyer seeks to cast her credibility in question.

“Why were you at that bar at 2 in the morning? Why did you drink five cocktails? Why were you walking where you were walking? Isn’t it true you’ve fantasized about an office romance with this man for years?”


Sometimes even a conviction is not enough: Alberta’s court of appeal overturned a sexual assault conviction because it determined, in a split decision, the judge interfered with the defendant’s case by stopping the defence lawyer from questioning the alleged victim about her drug use and allegations she had flirted earlier with the defendant.

But despite all this, Fassel argues there’s a significant societal benefit to publicly prosecuting sexual assaults.

“There’s great societal value in the reporting of sexual offences and in the prosecution of sexual offences as a means to deter it …

“When you combine our desire to increasingly report sexual offences and to bring it above board, to bring it above the underground so the community can see … to have a better understanding of who the victims and the perpetrators are.”

Others who work with sexual assault survivors argue there are ways to bring the discussion of sexual assault into the mainstream, to reduce the shame and stigma around admitting you’ve been raped, without going to the police.

What often complicates things, says Lyons with Moncton’s YWCA, is that at times women need to report a sexual assault in order to access certain counselling services. Even so, “I would never strongly coach someone to do one thing over the other,” she said.

Each survivor’s needs are different when it comes to healing from a sexual assault, says Farrah Khan, a counsellor with the Shlifer clinic.

“I don’t want to put that onus on survivors” to tell police, she said.

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Equally important, Khan said, is fostering communities of survivors, in person and online, so they feel less alone; it includes reducing the societal shame and stigma around people who come forward — to say,

“I believe you. You have a right to be safe. I’m so glad you told me. What do you need? How can I help? It’s not your fault.”

That last point Khan finds herself repeating over and over with women coming forward for the first time. “We are taught over and over again that somehow we bring this on ourselves.”


She also argues deterrence has to start on a much more basic level than prosecution. Education helps, she says, as do conversations about consent.

“It’s an epidemic. And we have to treat it as such.”

One young woman was 24 and working at her dream job in the Toronto area when a co-worker drugged and raped her in her own apartment. She was one of five per cent of the women surveyed who said their assailant was a colleague.

After two weeks in a traumatized daze — not sleeping,  not eating; longing “to curl up in a ball and die — she went to police.

Her first interview with a trio of officers went well, she said: “They were like, we’re going to get this guy.”

But then two successive detectives assigned to her case seemed bent on dissuading her from pursuing charges.

“This is really tough,” she recalls one of them saying.

“Are you sure you want to go through with this? Are you sure you want to put this guy on a list with Paul Bernardo?”

“I said, ‘Yes, of course. He raped me. He roofied me. He’s a danger to society.’”

The young woman, who asked not to be named to protect her privacy, found a second detective equally alienating. Convincing the detective to accept her evidence was “like pulling teeth,” she said. “It was like trying to force someone to fight this fight for me.

The woman moved back to New Brunswick to live with her family but travelled back to Ontario to follow up on the case.

“There was no charge laid. There was nothing.”



They asked the detective why.

“She said I had to take ownership of the fact that I’d been drinking with these guys.”

And that was the end of it. Only it wasn’t: The young woman is now at law school in New Brunswick. She plans to dedicate her life to fighting sexual assault even as she continues to wrestle with her own trauma.

“I can’t believe that that’s what happens. That it happens all the time and that’s the norm.” (Global News)

The effects of rape can include both the initial physical trauma as well as deep psychological trauma. Although rape victims commonly report injuries and issues with their reproductive health after the sexual assault, rape doesn’t always involve physical force. The most common and lasting effects of rape involve mental health concerns and diminished social confidence. (Healthy Place)



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Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is the medical term given to the response that most survivors have to rape. It is very important to note that RTS is the natural response of a psychologically healthy person to the trauma of rape so these symptoms do not constitute a mental disorder or illness.

The most powerful factor in determining how people respond to rape is the nature of the traumatic event itself. Not only is there the element of surprise, the threat of death and the threat of injury, there is also the violation of the person. This violation is physical, emotional and moral and associated with the closest human intimacy of sexual contact. The intention of the rapist is often to profane this most private aspect of the person and render the victim utterly helpless. Rape by its very nature is intentionally designed to produce psychological trauma. It is form of organised social violence comparable only to the combat of war. We get nowhere in our understanding of Rape Trauma Syndrome if we think of rape as simply being unwanted sex. Where combat veterans suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, rape survivors experience similar symptoms on a physical, behavioural and psychological level.

RTS symptoms are broke down into physical, behavioural and psychological responses. You may experience any variety of these symptom, or only a few.



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Physical symptoms are those things which manifest in or upon the survivor’s body that are evident to her and under physical examination by a nurse or doctor. Some of these are only present immediately after the rape while others only appear at a later stage.

  • Immediately after a rape, survivors often experience shock. They are likely to feel cold, faint, become mentally confused (disorientated), tremble, feel nauseous and sometimes vomit
  • Pregnancy
  • Gynaecological problems. Irregular, heavier and/or painful periods. Vaginal discharges, bladder infections. Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Bleeding and/or infections from tears or cuts in the vagina or rectum
  • A soreness of the body. There may also be bruising, grazes, cuts or other injuries
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Throat irritations and/or soreness due to forced oral sex
  • Tension headaches
  • Pain in the lower back and/or in the stomach
  • Sleep disturbances. This may be difficulty in sleeping or feeling exhausted and needing to sleep more than usual
  • Eating disturbances. This may be not eating or eating less or needing to eat more than usual



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Behavioural symptoms are those things the survivor does, expresses or feels that are generally visible to others. This includes observable reactions, patterns of behaviour, lifestyle changes and changes in relationships.

  • Crying more than usual
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Being restless, agitated and unable to relax or feeling listless and unmotivated
  • Not wanting to socialise or see anybody or socialising more than usual, so as to fill up every minute of the day
  • Not wanting to be alone
  • Stuttering or stammering
  • Avoiding anything that reminds the survivor of the rape
  • Being more easily frightened or startled than usual
  • Being very alert and watchful
  • Becoming easily upset by small things
  • Relationship problems, with family, friends, lovers and spouses
  • Fear of sex, loss of interest in sex or loss of sexual pleasure
  • Changes in lifestyle such as moving house, changing jobs, not functioning at work or at school or changes to appearance
  • Drop in school, occupational or work performance
  • Increased substance abuse
  • Increased washing or bathing
  • Behaving as if the rape didn’t occur, trying to live life as it was before the rape, this is called denial
  • Suicide attempts and other self-destructive behaviour such as substance abuse or self- mutilation



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Psychological symptoms are much less visible and can in fact be completely hidden to others so survivors need to offer this information or be carefully and sensitively questioned in order to elicit them. They generally refer to inner thoughts, ideas and emotions.

  • Increased fear and anxiety
  • Self-blame and guilt
  • Helplessness, no longer feeling in control of your life
  • Humiliation and shame
  • Lowering of self esteem
  • Feeling dirty or contaminated by the rape
  • Anger
  • Feeling alone and that no one understands
  • Losing hope in the future
  • Emotional numbness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of memory
  • Constantly thinking about the rape
  • Having flashbacks to the rape, feeling like it is happening again
  • Nightmares
  • Depression
  • Becoming suicidal

It is important that we recognise that people respond differently to trauma. While most survivors will experience these symptoms, some survivors may only experience a few of these symptoms or none at all. We must be careful not to judge whether someone has been raped by the number of symptoms that they display.

The trauma of rape is often compounded by the myths, prejudice and stigma associated with rape. Survivors who have internalised these myths have to fight feelings of guilt and shame. The burden can be overwhelming especially if the people they come into contact with reinforce those myths and prejudices. It is never a survivor’s fault for being raped. No one asks to be raped or deserves to be raped. (Rape Crisis)

The aftermath of rape involves a cluster of acute and chronic physical and psychological effects. It’s important that victims receive comprehensive care that addresses both the short and long-term effects of rape as they become apparent. Frequently a victim’s intimate relationship, if present prior to the assault, disintegrates within one year after the rape. This only adds to the psychological impact of the rape on the victim. Victims of extremely violent rape, or those who were assaulted repeatedly or at a very young age, may need treatment for the rest of their lives. (Healthy Place)


If you think that you or someone you know has been raped:

  • Don’t blame yourself. The rape was not your fault.
  • Talk to an adult and go to the police station or hospital right away! If you don’t have an adult to talk to first, just go to the police station or hospital.
  • Don’t urinate (pee) before getting help. Get a urine test as soon as possible. A urine test can tell if someone gave you a date rape drug. But these drugs can leave your system in as little as 12 hours.
  • Don’t douche, bathe, or change clothes before getting help. Doing these things can remove possible evidence of the rape, such as semen (fluid from a man) or hair belonging to the person who assaulted you.
  • Get medical care right away. Tell the doctor or nurse if you think you were drugged. He or she will give you a urine test right away because date rape drugs leave your body quickly. You will also get a medical exam to make sure you don’t have other injuries. The doctor or nurse will test you for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS, and offer you emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. If the doctor or nurse does not mention testing for STDs or emergency contraception, ask for them.
  • Get emotional support. You may feel terribly shocked, afraid, or even emotionally numb. Whatever you are feeling, talk to people who care about you. Get help from a mental health professional. The hospital usually can put you in touch with a counselor or support group. You can also talk with a hotline counselor. (See below.) Read more about handling your feelings.
  • Talk to your parents or guardians. A counselor can help you talk with your parents or guardians. They may be upset, but that’s just because they care about you. (



In many cultures the stigma associated with rape is extremely damaging to victims. In some Asian cultures, women are driven to suicide or are killed by family members in order to relieve the family of their shame (Heise et al. 1994). Similarly, in Alexandria, Egypt, 47 percent of women murdered were killed by a family member following a rape, and almost 8 percent of all suicides were committed by women following a rape (Heise et al. 1994).

Male and female rape victims experience many of the same consequences (Mezey and King 1989). Although both genders may have difficulty seeking help from crisis intervention services or the police, men may have more because being a rape victim is inconsistent with the male stereotype. Gay and lesbian rape victims may have greater difficulty than heterosexuals obtaining help from social service agencies, which are often not publicized for or geared toward gay and lesbian clients (Waterman, Dawson, and Bologna 1989). ( )



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If you are a rape survivor, or you think you may have been a victim of rape, peer support can be very helpful.  Remember that it was not your fault and you are not alone.Tell your story. Surviving a sexual assault, and discussing it, can be intensely harrowing — it’s the kind of violation most would rather forget entirely. It is understandable, the more people talk about it, the better able to combat sexual violence. 



Stranger rape and date rape are never the victim’s fault. But there may be some things you can do to protect yourself.

  • Stay Calm and think. If someone surprises you with an attack, don’t focus on fighting back. Focus on getting away. If you stay aware of your surroundings, you may be able to get away before something even happens. For example, say you are jogging and have a feeling that someone is watching you. Don’t ignore your instincts! Immediately leave the area and move toward people.
  • Make some noise — a lot of it! If someone approaches you and you feel uncomfortable, don’t stay silent. Shout “No!” or “Get Away!” You could also shout “Help me!” or even “Fire!” Use your voice even if you don’t think other people will hear you — it may startle an attacker long enough for you to run or drive away.
  • Carry a cell phone, if possible. Make sure it’s programmed with your parents’ phone number, and don’t be afraid to call 9-1-1 if you feel threatened. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t be afraid to shout “I’ve already called the police!” if someone is approaching you.

Sometimes girls worry about being “nice” or don’t want to draw attention to themselves. Some girls may fear making a big deal out of nothing, even if their gut tells them to worry. But the most important thing is for you to be safe. Don’t worry about what other people think. Do whatever it takes to stay safe! (




What are your thoughts?