Rape and sexual coercion


Women react to a rape as diversely as they differ in their personalities. Nonetheless, sexualised violence invariably involves a serious violation of their integrity for all women. This can result in long-lasting traumatisation.

Women affected by rape are indeed in a psychological state comparable to shock. This often lasts several days. Some women feel estranged from their environment and themselves; their former life seems no longer to exist. Most girls and women live through a time of disorientation. They try to grasp what has happened and regain control over their lives.

The external reactions in the immediate aftermath of the crime can vary significantly – here again there is no “typical” behaviour: Some women have a nervous breakdown, others appear to be excessively controlled and composed, some are not able to put into words what happened.

Even subsequently, rape victims are often irritable and overwhelmed by a host of partly conflicting feelings: disgust, fear, despair, hatred, sadness and powerlessness are some examples. Their self-esteem, their dignity, their sexuality and the perception of their own bodies can be disturbed for a long time. Many women affected react with shame and disgust with themselves, or torment themselves with guilt-feelings and self-reproach. Many victims of violence are deeply confused about their own reactions during the crime.

This sensation is often reinforced by people close to the victim. Relatives, friends and acquaintances may react with resistance, incredulity, incomprehension and even accusations. Women are often confronted with the aforementioned prejudices expressed by people close to them.

The consequences and psychological symptoms are manifold, e.g.:

  • anxiety states – e.g. panic disorders, anxiety on leaving the home, anxiety of being alone, anxiety of being with people;
  • sleeping disorders, nightmares;
  • obsessions – such as having to wash oneself continually and repeatedly;
  • depression;
  • suicidal tendencies;
  • eating disorders;
  • sexual problems;
  • the abuse of or dependence on alcohol, drugs and pills;
  • flashbacks (sudden, intrusive memories, during which the crime is “re-lived” as if it were real)

Moreover, mid- and long-term psychological problems result in physical illness and social problems, which are frequently intensified by the social environment. Here are some examples:

  • separation, divorce from the partner;
  • secondary damage to children;
  • withdrawal from one’s circle of friends and acquaintances;
  • inability to work, unemployment, dependence on State benefits;
  • change of residence

Many women try to cope with the rape by themselves. Experience has shown though that it is very difficult to come to terms with the experience without help and support. Many victims take years to seek help.

Rape crisis centres are qualified and specialised facilities offering various help and support services to rape victims.