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PTSD in Sexual Assault Survivors: Effective Ways to Treat the Trauma

Nov 12,2021

Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome, or PTSD, develops among people who have gone through a tragic event in their life. Almost everyone goes through something traumatic at least once in their lifetime. However, people usually get better with time. In the case of people going through PTSD, the trauma continues to happen over and over again in their minds even though it has already gotten over.

What is trauma? Trauma is a horrific experience that has taken place in a person's life. It differs from person to person. It can be physical injury, losing a loved one, experiencing a sexual assault, surviving natural disasters, etc. The symptoms of this mental health condition include nightmares, negative thoughts, reliving the trauma, intrusive memories, avoiding places or people, feeling detached, and hopelessness.

Although PTSD can occur at any age among any gender, 94% of women experience developing PTSD symptoms within two weeks of the assault, and 34% of women develop the symptoms post nine months of the rape. The current statistics are a huge concern for everyone. The alarming rates of PTSD among the people who have experienced sexual assault is a clear sign that the resources employed for mental treatment and improvement are not adequate.

According to Emily Dworkin, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, the majority of sexual assault survivors recover from most of the post-traumatic stress in the first three months. One of the meta-analysis published also revealed that 81% of the people who experience sexual assault PTSD symptoms one week after the assault. Therefore, it is of extreme importance to pay close attention to the treatment of the sexual assault survivors in the earlier weeks.

PTSD Symptoms Post Experiencing Sexual Violence

After someone experiences a type of sexual violence against themselves, they go through The Rape Trauma Syndrome or RTS. The syndrome occurs in three phases in which the victim and their brains react. These phases are:

Phase 1: The Acute Phase 

It emerges right after the assault takes place. In this phase, the victim experiences a rush of emotions. The person can be either expressive towards such feelings. They may either express themselves by shaking, crying and yelling. On the other hand, the victim can also appear numb, calm, and quiet in this phase. 

Phase 2: Outward Adjustment

Throughout this phase, the victim focuses less on the mishap and approaches to things, people, and surroundings with partial or complete denial. The trauma in this phase has not yet healed, but the survivor tries to combat it through ignorance.

Phase 3: Long-Term Reorganization 

This phase makes them connect their image with the sexual violence that they had experienced. The victims often develop feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, and depression.

Studies suggest that the symptoms of PTSD decrease over time when the survivor receives support and care from society. But, on the other hand, if the victim does not get the required aid and assistance from their loved ones, the symptoms are expected to worsen with time.

Possible Ways to Treat PTSD in Sexual Assault Survivors

The treatments of mental conditions are advancing and evolving. Apart from medicines, various new and effective treatments for PTSD are available now. Some of the result yielding ways that help sexual violence survivors are:

1. CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)

CBT or talk therapy focuses on changing the negative thought patterns of the survivors. It helps the victims restore social skills, managing anger, and other overpowering emotions.

2. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

Through this type of therapy, the victim learns to process the trauma. The patient is made to rethink or relive the accident that took place while the therapist directs the victim to focus on stimuli such as auditory tones, tactile stimulation, or eye movements.

3. Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is a talk therapy that focuses on treating the violated person's roots that cause them mental suffering. It helps regain self-esteem, gets rid of self-blame, introduces ways to effective thinking, and can be used to treat PTSD in sexually assaulted people.

4. Group Therapy

Group therapies are also productive in yielding results for those suffering from PTSD. People usually do not want to talk about sexual violence over and over again. This silence can result in untreated mental trauma. Hence, group therapies help survivors converse about their pain in a safe and understandable environment. 

Apart from the psychological therapies and medications, what plays a significant role in the treatment and improvement of PTSD symptoms among the survivors is how society perceives the crime. Most of the victims complain of their loved ones not being supportive of them. The societal aspects should also be taken into consideration when we talk about the treatment of PTSD in sexually assaulted people. 

When it comes to sexual violence, a multitude of myths exists. For example, men don't experience sexual violence, all men are rapists, women lie about going through sexual assaults, etc. Knowledge and awareness regarding sexual violence are limited. And, these are also some of the reasons for the prevailing scenario. It is crucial that we focus on improving the education system for avoiding sexual assaults in the first place and then treating PTSD in survivors.