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Rape And Sexual Assault

Lewis Psychology Services For Rape And Sexual Assault

What is Rape?

Rape is an act of violence, control and anger that uses sexual acts including penetration as a weapon. The rapist may have used physical violence and/or verbal intimidation. He may have done humiliating things to you or threatened the safety of your family. He may have been someone you know - a partner, ex partner, friend, neighbour, workmate or relative.

Current Legal Definition of Rape

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 (the Act) came into force on the 1st May 2004. The purpose of the Act was to strengthen and modernise the law on sexual offences, whilst improving preventative measures and the protection of individuals from sexual offenders. The Act extends the definition of rape to include the penetration by a penis of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person. The 2003 Act also changes the law about consent and belief in consent.

The word "consent" in the context of the offence of rape is now defined in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. A person consents if he or she agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice. The law does not require the victim to have resisted physically in order to prove a lack of consent.

What is Sexual (Indecent) Assault?

Sexual assault is an act of physical, psychological and emotional violation, in the form of a sexual act, which is inflicted on someone without consent. It can involve forcing or manipulating someone to witness or participate in any sexual acts, apart from penetration of the mouth with the penis, the penetration of anus or vagina (however slight) with any object or the penis, which is rape.

Drug Rape

The so called 'drug rape' (particularly the drug Rohypnol) is a label that the media has used in response to attacks on women and girls where drugs have been given to the women (unwittingly) in social settings e.g. a night club, pub or bar by a man, or men who is known/unknown to the woman. The drug/s are usually 'delivered' through alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks.

Drugs used may result in a woman becoming physically 'helpless' to respond, may result in loss of memory of the assault (which may or may not return) or may stimulate sexual response. Even if she consented to take the drug (and that might be the case) she is still not responsible for any subsequent abuse.

Rape in Marriage and Rape by a Partner

Rape in marriage was criminalised in 1982 in Scotland and 1991 in England. Before these dates a woman had no legal protection for the crime of rape perpetrated against her by her husband. Forced intercourse within marriage or a relationship is still rape.

There are many reasons why a woman may remain in a relationship where such abuse is taking place:

  • to prevent disruption to any children
  • financial constraints
  • fear that leaving might incite further violence
  • shame about speaking out
  • many women cannot admit, even to themselves, that their husband or partner is raping them
  • women may blame themselves for what is happening
  • women may still have feelings for their abusers or feel convinced that they will change

Male Rape

Sexual assault and rape include any unwanted sexual acts. The assailant can be a stranger, an acquaintance, a family member, or someone the victim knows well and trusts. Rape and sexual assault are crimes of violence and are used to exert power and control over another person.

Even if you agree to have sex with someone, you have the right to say "no" at any time, and to say "no" to any sexual acts. If you are sexually assaulted or raped, it is never your fault -- you are not responsible for the actions of others. Even if you did not resist or fight back at the time of the attack, it is still assault. It could have happened to you when you were a child or as an adult. It is not a 'gay crime' - it happens to both heterosexual and homosexual men.

Many heterosexual male victims do not come forward and report being raped for fear of being perceived as homosexual. However, male sexual assault has nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the attacker or the victim, just as a sexual assault does not make the victim survivor gay, bisexual or heterosexual. It is a violent crime that affects heterosexual men as much as homosexual men.

Much has been written about the psychological trauma associated with the rape of female victims. and case research suggests that males also commonly experience many of the reactions that females experience. These reactions include: depression, anger, guilt, self-blame, sexual dysfunctions, flashbacks, and suicidal feelings.

Issues requiring immediate medical attention include:

  • Rectal and anal tearing and abrasions which may require attention and put you at risk for bacterial infections;
  • Potential HIV exposure; and
  • Exposure to other sexually transmitted diseases.

If you plan to report the rape to the police, an immediate medical examination is necessary to collect potential evidence for the investigation and prosecution.

Sexual Harassment

Before the mid 1970s, sexual harassment had no name, it existed but the language to name it did not exist. Since that time, there has been a growing awareness and reporting of sexual harassment. Sexual Harassment can include:

  • Suggestive looks and gestures
  • Threatening behaviour
  • Brushing against another's body
  • Promises of job benefits or promotion in exchange for sexual favours
  • Sexual remarks, jokes, whistling and teasing, asking questions about personal or sexual life, turning discussions to sexual topics, telling sexual stories, making sexual innuendoes, sexual comments about a person's clothing, anatomy or looks, patronising , derogatory remarks or references, repeated requests for dates or sexual favours
  • Pin-up calendars, sexually explicit materials, pornography, computer pornography, mobile phone pornography, sexist graffiti.

Most women have had the experience of men pushing up against them in an uncomfortable manner in a crowded place or on public transport, without being able to do anything about it other than by getting away as soon as possible. Sexual harassment is part of the intimidation many women face in their everyday life.

Getting Help

If you have been raped go to a place where you feel safe. Try and keep warm and drink fluids.

If you are not sure what you want to do, go along, with a friend, to your nearest Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) where you can have a forensic and medical examination (including tests for sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy). They can store the forensic results until you make up your mind whether to report to the police or not.

If you are not sure where there is a SARC you can contact the NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or contact your local doctor or Accident and Emergency hospital. If you can take a friend you can trust with you.  

If you decide to report to the police ... if possible:

  • Do not wash
  • Do not brush your teeth
  • Do not have a cigarette
  • Do not eat or drink
  • Do not change your clothes (or keep them safely to one side)
  • Try not to go to the toilet
  • Do not clear up anything from the area of the incident.

Don't worry if you have already done some of these things. It is quite possible that there is still evidence to collect as well as injuries that can be documented.

Some advantages of reporting

  • It is an opportunity for you to present your side regarding the rape / incident.
  • It is the only chance you have of getting your attacker punished.
  • If your attacker is known to you or has power over you; it may be a way of stopping a future situation in which you are likely to be raped again by him.

Some disadvantages of reporting

  • Reporting does not necessarily mean the rapist will be convicted neither does a conviction necessarily result in a prison sentence.
  • You will set in motion a process over which you have little or no control and which is difficult, although not impossible, to stop.

EMDR For Rape And Sexual Assault

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an approach to therapy that is particularly helpful for people who have experienced something traumatic. That can be something we would normally think of as traumatizing (a sexual assault, an earthquake, a bank robbery) or an experience that was disturbing and personally traumatizing (an incident of bullying, humiliation, betrayal, complicated bereavement).

If you are involved in a distressing event such as a rape or sexual assault, you may feel overwhelmed and your brain may be unable to process what has happened. The distressing memory seems to become frozen on a neurological level. When you recall that memory, you can re-experience what you saw, heard, smelt, tasted or felt, and this can be quite intense. Sometimes the memories are so distressing, that the person affected tries to avoid thinking about the event to avoid experiencing the disturbing feelings.

The alternating left-right stimulation of the brain with eye movements, sounds or taps during EMDR, seems to stimulate the brain's frozen or blocked information processing system. This may be by helping to connect the cognitive/thinking areas of the brain with the more primitive emotional/feeling areas. As this processing takes place, the distressing memories of being bullied seem to lose their intensity, so that they are less disturbing and seem more like 'ordinary' memories. The effect is believed to be similar to that which occurs naturally during REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) when your eyes rapidly move from side to side. EMDR helps reduce the distress of all the different kinds of memories, whether it was what you saw, heard, smelt, tasted, felt or thought.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) For Rape And Sexual Assault

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) has been shown by many research trials to be the treatment of choice for many emotional problems such as posttraumatic stress reactions, depression, and panic attacks.

CBT therapy for rape and sexual assault experiences usually involves training in many different psychological techniques and typically involves some or all of the following components: training in relaxation and anxiety management skills, techniques which desensitise people to the abuse memory and reduce the frequency of intrusive thoughts, nightmares, etc., and techniques to overcome negative thinking patterns.

However each person's reaction is unique and the specific CBT counselling techniques required will depend on the person's particular difficulties.

Counselling And Psychotherapy For Rape And Sexual Assault

Counselling and psychotherapy provide a space to help you gain a clearer understanding of yourself and your situation. Therapists will never force you to talk about anything you are not ready to.

Counselling or psychotherapy helps you take time out from your situation and see it from a fresh perspective. Working with a therapist gives you a chance to think about what you can do to change your situation for the better. It can also give you a chance to explore complex or difficult issues in a safe and confidential environment. 

Counselling and psychotherapy can help you to:

  • reinterpret it from an different perspective
  • address issues related to the context of the abuse and make desired life changes
  • facilitate resolution

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Medical disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice by a qualified doctor.