The effects of sexual abuse cannot be predicted: each case, each individual finds his or her own way to survive, and as we will see, some effects can have very detrimental and long lasting results. For those individuals who do not receive the appropriate psychological and medical help may suffer the effects of the abuse for the remainder of their lives. Victims should always be encouraged to seek both medical and therapeutic treatment.
There are two definitions of rape: forcible and statutory rape. Forcible rape is the use of force or force through intimidation. Statutory rape is intercourse, whether consented or not, with a person under the legal age of consent. Even when a sexual attack does not fall within the legal definition of rape, there are numerous types of sexual assault which can be prosecuted. It is estimated that 1-in-4 to 1-in-7 women in the United States will be raped in their lifetime. (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005)
There are seven types of rape: stranger rape, acquaintance rape, date rape, gang rape, male rape, marital rape, and rape by women. Stranger rape is rape by someone the victim does not know. Acquaintance rape is rape by someone the victim knows and is believed to be the most frequent type of rape and also the least reported sexual assault. Date rape, a form of acquaintance rape, is based on consent and often comes down to he said she said. Gang rape survivors rarely report the crime or seek professional help; research has shown that the larger the group, the more violent the rape. Most male rape is perpetrated by heterosexual males and occurs more frequently in prisons; it is estimated that one out of every 10 rape survivors are male. Marital rape is believed to be more common than date rape and rarely reported for fear of not being believed. Rape by women is believed to be the rarest of all cases of rape and usually involves women helping a male or gang rape, but it can involve a male being raped by a woman or multiple women. (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005)
The four motivations for rape are sexual gratification, anger rape, power rape, and sadistic rape. Sexual gratification is generally believed to be the motivation behind acquaintance and date rape. Anger rape is generally not premeditated, but it is violent and spurred by anger and resentment toward women. Power rape is spurred by the need to control and dominate. Sadistic rape is usually premeditated and ritualized, frequently subjecting victims to degradation, mutilation, torture, or murder. (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005)
Following rape, many survivors go into crisis. The short-term effects of rape can include insomnia, frequent crying, eating disorders, headaches, bladder inflammation, moodiness, irritability, headaches, depression, anxiety, and a disruption of mensus. Victims may withdraw from social activities, family, and friends and become distrustful and suspicious of others; they may feel shameful and guilty. (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005)
Long-term effects of rape can include health related problems such as sexually transmitted diseases, infections, and psychological issues. Many survivors experience social dysfunction and problems maintaining intimate and personal relationships decades after a rape. Sexual functioning may be impaired for the rest of the person’s life. Rape victims are at a greater risk for substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. Rape victims may experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which may involve a flat emotional affect, nervousness, disturbing dreams, and flashbacks. PTSD is common among victims of sexual assaults and may be experienced years, even decades after the traumatic event. (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005)
Sexual abuse of children includes kissing, fondling, anal or vaginal intercourse, exhibitionism, sexual touching, and oral sex. Any sexual contact between a child and an adult or when sexual contact happens between a much older child and a younger child or sexual contact that involves coercion is consider sexual abuse. Most childhood sexual abuse is committed by relatives, friends, and neighbors: persons the child knows and trusts or persons in authority or who may wield some type of power over the child. Symptoms of childhood abuse include the development of new fears, insomnia, nightmares, problems eating, changes in academic grades, and sudden behavioral or personality changes. (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005)
The effects of childhood sexual abuse are wide-spread and vary in severity and length. The most common symptoms can include eating disorders, social anxiety, fears, depression, inappropriate sexual behaviors, aggression, anger, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, self-destructive behaviors, suicide attempts, low self esteem, distrust of others, social dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, post-traumatic stress disorder, behavior regression, antisocial behaviors, and feelings of detachment. (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005)
It is vitally important that survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse receive treatment after an attack, even for an attack that has been thwarted, medical and therapeutic treatment are necessary. Crisis intervention, psychotherapy, and social support make a huge difference in recovery time and the severity of short- and long-term effects of the attack. (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005)
Rathus, S.A., Nevid, J.S., and Fichner-Rathus, L. (2005). Human sexuality in a world of diversity. (6th ed.) Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.