In recent decades, rape has come out of the closet and is now openly discussed and recognized as a serious social problem. However, there is still a stigma of shame and blame attached to a victim of rape causing many children and women to remain silent and suffer the consequences of emotional trauma alone. A generation ago there were no such things as rape hot lines, rape awareness groups, or rape survivor therapy. There has been much progress made towards educating the public concerning the effects of rape, as well as recognition that rape is not a sexual act but a criminal act of violence.
By law, rape is "the crime of sexual intercourse without the consent of the victim, often through force or threat of violence"(Rape pg). Statutory rape is the rape of a victim who is "deemed legally incapable of consenting if she or he is known to be mentally incompetent, intoxicated, drugged or below the age of consent at the time of the rape" (Rape pg).
Although, traditionally rape is a term applied to male sexual force upon a female, revisions have been made in many jurisdictions to include the possibility of a male victim. For years, issues concerning rape and the law have been debated in the United States. However, efforts by feminist groups have been successful in expanding victim's rights, such as the removal of statutes that required rape victims to physically resist attackers (Rape pg). In the past, rape victims were required to show signs of injury in order to prove they had not consented to sexual relations. Another reform has been making marital rape a crime in many circumstances. In 1975, South Dakota was the first state to enact such law reforms. Since the 1980's, date rape, the rape by an acquaintance, has become a very important issue, especially on college campuses, although, guilt is difficult to establish (Rape pg). Rape is a world wide problem and leaves profound psychological effects upon the victims.
Incest, coerced pregnancy, mass rape, ethnic cleansing, forced prostitution, date rape, marital rape, rape in prison, rape as revenge, political rape, gang rape, rape in conflict situations, and rape as a weapon of war" - are not about sex but rather power and violence through the use of sex (Addressing 1-2). One out of every five women is a survivor of rape. Moreover, she usually knows her attacker. Forty to sixty per cent of known rapes are committed against females fifteen years of age and younger (Addressing 1-2). This reality affects women and girls during their entire life span. It is referred to as gender violence, and can occur when they are infants, girls, adolescents, women, and elderly women. Whether a woman has ever been raped or not, she lives in constant fear of it everyday, every time she is alone in her home or crossing a public parking lot, she is always aware that she is a potential victim of rape.
Many feel rape it is time for rape to be addressed as a health issue. A recent study showed that medical care costs of raped or assaulted women were 2.5 times higher compared to costs of non-victims. Rape victims suffer from a number of physical conditions such as "pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pelvic pain, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, partial or permanent disability, even delayed physical effects such as arthritis, hypertension and heart disease, unwanted pregnancy, and STDs" (Addressing 1-2). Aside from the physical symptoms, victims suffer a wide range of emotional and psychological disorders.
These mental and physical conditions that a rape victim experiences is called rape trauma syndrome. This phase can occur during the rape, immediately afterwards, and may continue for over a considerable time (Rape Trauma pg).
Rape survivors describe a wide rage of emotions such as guilt, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, self-blame, and helplessness. They suffer from severe mood swings and fatigue, and generally feel disoriented and have difficulty concentrating. Sleep disturbances such as nightmares are common, along with tension and appetite changes (Rape Trauma pg). Survivors may have irrational fears, such as phobias, and a general fear of violence, physical injury and death. They experience depression, often crying uncontrollably. Many rape victims experience anger and a deep seeded wish for revenge. Many suffer shock and disbelief, and may lapse into a state of denial, incapable of coping with the reality of what has happened to them (Rape Trauma pg). They also may regress to prior disorders, whether drug and alcohol addiction or other mental illnesses. A common reaction is a sudden change in the victim's sexual relations or behavior. They often become more sexually active, engaging in injurious sexual conduct such as unprotected sex with multiple partners and prostitution, or becoming fearful or disgusted by any sexual encounter and distrust of men (Rape Trauma pg).
Recent statistics show that fifty-four percent of female rape victims were first raped before the age of eighteen. Twenty-two percent were first raped before the age of twelve, and thirty-two percent between the ages of twelve and seventeen. Moreover, childhood victimization places the victim at a higher risk for later victimization (Tjaden pg). Eighteen percent of female rape victims who were raped before the age of eighteen were raped again in adulthood, however, only nine percent of "adult female rape victims, without childhood rape experiences, were raped more than once" (Tjaden pg).
Although rape is rape regardless of the circumstances, there are four classifications, stranger, acquaintance, date, and partner, or spousal rape. Stranger rape is the most common rape that women report. Women are generally too embarrassed and ashamed to report acquaintance, date and partner rape, and assume that few people, especially authorities will believe them. Rapes, other than stranger rape, are usually treated with skepticism by authorities. "Legally, it may be easier to prove a rape case now in the U.S., but not by much. Survivors of rapes can expect to go on trial along with their attacker, if not in the courtroom then in the court of public opinion" (Gibbs 24). The New York Times published not only a Palm Beach victim's name, but also details of her background, including her high schools grades and her driving record. A woman at Carleton College in Minnesota, who claimed she was repeatedly raped for four hours by a fellow student, was asked at an administrative hearing if she performed oral sex on dates.
Rape and sexual assault laws vary from state to state and moreover, they are changing and updating day-to-day. Earlier this year the Virginia House of Delegates gave preliminary approval to a bill that would allow the state to prosecute for spousal rape (Rein B01). Many states are following this lead and are finally recognizing rape of a spouse as a criminal sexual assault. "In a 1990 study a U.S. congressional committee estimated that 1 in 7 married women will be raped by their spouses. Very few crimes will be reported, however, since women assume that no one will believe them" (Gibbs 24). The National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape in California reported that twenty states have eliminated preferential treatment for husbands. Between 1978-1985, only 118 cases of spousal rape ever went to trial, but with 104 convictions (Gibbs 24). Earlier this year four Notre Dame football players were charged with the gang rape of a young woman. One sophomore player who was involved was not charged with rape, although he faces other felony charges (Elmore 12C). "Conspiracy to commit rape and criminal deviant conduct each carry six to twenty years in prison, and sexual battery up to three years" (Elmore 12C).
Last year the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal handed down convictions to three Bosnian Serb soldiers for raping, torturing and enslaving women in the 1990's. This ruling established the presence of rape, either as a tool for terrorism or an incidental of war, as a crime against humanity. One man was sentenced to twelve years, the other two were given twenty to twenty-eight years. This case set a precedent and is regarded as a milestone. Human rights abuses have been swiftly condemned in war tribunals throughout the 20th century, however, this was the first condemnation of violence against women (Armstrong pg).
It has taken centuries for rape to be recognized as a criminal act, and rape laws and the prosecution of rapists are getting tougher every year. Although, rape survivors suffer profound emotional and psychological effects, there are many areas of support available for them. Education and prosecution is perhaps the only cure for rape.
Addressing Rape -- the Urgency for Action." Contemporary Women's Issues Database.
Volume 4. September 01, 1998; pp 1-2. http://ask.elibrary.com/getdoc.asp?pubname=Contemporary_Women~Q~s_Issues_Database&puburl=0&querydocid=:bigchalk:U.S.;Lib&dtype=0~0&dinst=0&author=&title=Addressing+Rape%2DThe+Urgency+for+Action++&date=09%2D01%2D1998&query=psychological+effects+of+rape&maxdoc=30&idx=23.(accessed 11-05-2002).
Armstrong-Hough, Mari. "UN acknowledges war rape." University Wire. February 26