Clear Creek County Advocates
VICTIM REACTIONS TO SEXUAL ASSAULT
Crime victimization is one of the most stressful events in life. While it is not usually seen in crisis terms, it has all the qualities that make for crisis. Some of the characteristics of stressful situations that result in a crisis reaction are:
SUDDENNESS – Stressful events that are sudden tend to have a crisis impact. When a loved one is dying slowly, people are able to readjust psychological defenses to cope with it. This has less crisis impact than a sudden unexpected death.
ARBITRARINESS – A situation which is arbitrary usually is experienced as a crisis. It seems unfair, capricious, and highly selective. It seems to happen in a no-fault, “out of the blue” way, resulting in the “why me?” phenomenon.
UNPREDICTABILITY – Crisis that can be anticipated lend themselves to planning so that some of the severity of the impact may be reduced. Predictable crisis include marriage, a new job, a school examination or elective surgery. On the other hand, there are those crisis which cannot be predicted such as natural disasters, serious accident or crimes. It is the unpredictable that further complicates the stressful event leading to a crisis reaction.
Let’s look at a progression of crime, which lend themselves to the victim experiencing a loss of control over ones life.
ELEVATOR – Pretend you are entering an elevator with a person standing on each side of you. You step in the center, and the elevator goes up a few floors. The man to your right gets off. What do you DO? Take a step to the right. You want your 3 or 4 feet of territorial space. We only allow people in that space with whom we are comfortable or close to. We make a decision every day about our space. If someone stands too close to you when they talk, we back up.
BURGLARY –A victim of a burglary has had both their space and security violated. They are now vulnerable and feel that “why me?” Someone using my things, eating my food, etc. “It’s just a simple residential burglary, Your Honor.”
ROBBERY – A further extension of loss of control over one’s life. Robbery is a direct confrontation where the victim’s freedom of movement is restricted, and they are frequently forced to give up their wallet – an extension of their identity. They also have the fear that not only does the suspect know where they live from the ID, but he knows what they look like.
RAPE – This is the ultimate loss of control over one’s life short of a homicide. This is total loss of control over what happens. Intrusion not only of territorial space, but also of body space, and a realization that everyone is vulnerable.
These victims will never again be able to feel the security and self-assurance, which they felt prior to the attack.
Few police officers view prostitutes as being upset in a rape situation. If we are to evaluate peoples’ reactions to stressful life events with real honesty, it isn’t difficult to see why rape victims who are prostitutes by choice have the same crisis reactions as other victims.
Victims of sexual assault suffer from:
1. Total loss of control over one’s life
2. Assault on integrity, sense of safety and personal identity.
Two feelings victims express with regularity:
1. Knew at some point during the assault that she would be killed.
2. Assumed some of the guilt for the crimes.
The assault produces long lasting and severe emotional trauma, and social disruption in the victim’s own life and in that of her family.
TYPES OF REACTIONS:
CONTROLLED – The victim may appear calm and unconcerned right after the crime. This reaction can range from a quiet withdrawn response to forgetting or denying the crime occurred. If a victim was assaulted in her home while preparing dinner, she may simply finish preparing dinner after the assailant leaves. This is an attempt to deny the crime. It also serves as “busy work” or doing something which appears orderly and in control of the situation. Within 2-4 weeks, this same person may be a “basket case” requiring hospitalization. The majority of victims display a controlled reaction.
EXPRESSED – The victim may be crying, hysterical, rambling or very angry, and wanting to strike back. These are all ways of ventilating feelings.
It has been the experience of police officers and hospital personnel that the majority of victims display a controlled reaction immediately after the crime. In the past, this has led to the assumption that “it’s no big deal to the victim, so it’s no big deal to us”. This lack of understanding on the part of professional people has undoubtedly caused severe emotional problems for these victims.