Compounding the Trauma of Rape
by: Anne Dryburgh, PhD
Suffering is always involved when people come for counseling. Over the years, I have met with women suffering from depression, childhood abuse, marital abuse, and addictions. Perhaps one of the toughest is when a woman tells me that she has been raped. Everything about it is horrifying. Many people who have been traumatized in this way turn to alcohol or drugs to lessen their wrenching pain.
Sometimes the people around the rape victim inadvertently cause her to suffer even more. None of us would want to be guilty of doing this. That is why I thought it would be helpful to briefly discuss two areas where the victim’s suffering is compounded. These are in relation to some of the myths surrounding rape and the experience of being raped twice.
Sadly, myths abound about what rape is and is not.It is not true that rape is only when a stranger accosts a helpless victim on a dark street. Most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Another myth is that the victim deserved to be raped. People say such things when the victim got into a car on her own with the perpetrator, was in a house on her own with him, was on her own in an isolated location, or was provocatively dressed. No matter how wise or unwise her behavior, no one ever deserves, or asks, to be raped. A third myth is that a weapon must have been used to threaten the victim. However, force can be used by a weapon, hands, threats, drugs, and/or the physical body. A fourth myth is that a person who has been known to be sexually promiscuous, or provocative in her behavior, was not raped. A woman’s sexual history has no bearing on whether or not the attack was rape.
The horror of rape is bad enough, yet many victims feel as if they have been raped twice. This can happen when others blame the victim for the rape. It can happen when someone asks her what she did to provoke the attack, when she is not believed by the person she confides in, if she is asked why the attack still bothers her if it happened a long time ago, if her case is not prosecuted in court because of lack of evidence, or the perpetrator is found not guilty at trial.
Many victims who have prosecuted perpetrators have felt as if they were raped for a second time during the trial. The lawyer for the perpetrator may leave the victim feeling humiliated, disregarded, and invaded. However, this sense of being raped again may happen if the person the victim confides in does not believe her. If the confidant blames her or judges her, the victim will feel worse than before. Given the possible traumatic experiences she may have while pursuing justice, the victim must be fully informed of this risk. She has to decide herself about whether or not she will go to trial, knowing the risks and the possible advantages of doing so.
The experience of being raped twice may occur during the medical examination after the attack. She may experience this because during the examination, a stranger examines her which means that she again has no control over the invasion of her body.
If we are helping someone struggling with an addiction, it is possible that the substance has been used to help alleviate crushing emotional pain. Victims of rape often reach out to drugs or drink in this way and become addicted to them. When we are helping them, it is important to lovingly seek to understand their background. If they have been the victims of rape, as we help them, we must not add to their suffering by being guilty of holding to a myth or by giving them a sense of going through the attack again. As we listen to them, we might hear that others have unwittingly done this to them and caused more suffering as a result. Listening, care, and sensitivity are essential.
 Paula Lundberg and Shelly Marmion, “Intimate” Violence Against Women: When Spouses, Partners, or Lovers Attack (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2006), 60.
 Audrey Savage, Twice Raped (Indianapolis: Book Weaver Publishing Co. 1990), 19.
 Aphrodite Matsakis, The Rape Recovery Handbook: Step-by-Step for Survivors of Sexual Assault (Oakland: New Harbinger Publication, 2003), 4.Sue Daniels, Working with the Trauma of Rape and Sexual Violence: A Guide for Professionals (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2017), 17, 23, 32; Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror 3rd ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2015), 72;
 Judy Katz, No Fairy Godmothers, No Magic Wands: The Healing Process After Rape (Saratoga: R & E Publishers, 2008), 53.
 Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 165.
 Katz, No Fairy Godmothers, No Magic Wands, 57.
 Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 161.
Anne Dryburgh, Ph.D., is an IABC (International Association of Biblical Counselors). and an ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors). certified counselor and a CABC (Commissioned Addictions Biblical Counselor), who has been working cross-culturally since the early 1990s. She is a council board member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, a guest lecturer at Tilsley College in Scotland, an external reader for doctoral candidates for Masters International University of Divinity, and frequently contributes to numerous counseling blogs.