Coping / Myths / Recovery / Survival

How a Woman Who Is Raped Behaves

Since the topic has come up a few times recently, I thought I’d take a moment to describe how someone who has been raped behaves.

When a woman is about to be raped, she fights back with everything she’s got. She knows that her very life is endangered, and she will do absolutely anything to save herself. She will kick, yell, scream, cry, beg and bargain to avoid it. If she goes down, she goes down swinging. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.

When a woman is about to be raped, she quickly calculates what she needs to do to survive, and often that means complying. Just like people are advised to go along with what a mugger wants, often it’s best to keep a rapist calm. Survival means more than anything. If she survives, she’s done the right thing. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.

When a woman is raped, she goes to the police as soon as she can. She knows that collecting evidence is best done as soon as possible, and she will do anything to get her rapist convicted. After all, if she tried to fight him off, she did no wrong. She has a right to justice. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.

When a woman is raped, she tells no one, or only a few people, but certainly not the police. She knows that going to the police will mean retelling what happened to strangers, many of whom may judge her and blame her. She knows that going to trial will mean putting her own self on trial, to be accused as a slut or accused of lying. Hardly anyone who seeks justice gets it. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.

When a woman is raped, she acts hysterically. She cries and sobs and can’t cope with life. She goes for days without eating normally or sleeping. She is afraid to be alone and afraid of having people too near to her. Her world has been turned upside down, and she acts like it. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.

When a woman has been raped, she acts like nothing out of the ordinary happened at all. She goes to work or to school the next day like any other. She tells no one. She keeps it to herself. She even forgets about it. Because there are bills to pay and kids to feed and someone still needs to keep a roof over everyone’s head, and after all, all she wants to do is feel normal again. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.

When a woman has been raped, she remembers every excruciating detail. She relives them every night in her nightmares and sees them during the day during her flashbacks. Everyday things become triggers that set her on a roller coaster of remembrance. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.

When a woman has been raped, she forgets it. Sometimes it’s because she was literally out of her head when it happened – dissociated. Sometimes it’s because she willfully shoved the memories aside so that she could cope. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.

When a woman has been raped, she’s damaged goods forever. Nothing anyone can do or say will restore her to the person she was before the attack. It changes how she sees the world, the people around her and herself. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.

When a woman has been raped, she can survive. And more than survive, she can thrive. She can overcome what was done to her, repair herself and become stronger than she ever was before. She can let go of shame and guilt and self-blame. She can learn to trust again. She can learn to live. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.

I hope this has been educational. In truth, a woman who has been raped can act in any manner of way. I have been with women who have just been raped and seen them cry, scream, laugh, smile or show absolutely no emotion at all. Some choose to report it and some do not. Some fought back during the attack and some did not or could not. Some struggle with depression, anxiety disorders and dissociative disorders for years after an assault. Some recover more quickly.

There truly is no one right way to react to a rape. Care providers often tell a woman that whatever she did to survive a rape was the right thing to do, and I believe that. Similarly, whatever a woman needs to do to cope in the aftermath is normal, too. Yes, there are adaptive strategies, like joining a support group, and maladaptive strategies, like turning to drugs and alcohol. It isn’t easy. Few people can chart a straight-line path through recovery.

When you meet a woman who has been raped, don’t judge her if she doesn’t react in the way you had expected. She has survived an ordeal most people will thankfully never know. It took a lot for her to get as far as she has. If she hasn’t done it the way you expected her to, it doesn’t matter. She’s a survivor all the same.


26 thoughts on “How a Woman Who Is Raped Behaves

  1. Pingback: A difficult story to tell… « misslisted

  2. This is an extraordinarily insightful and thought-provoking piece. It highlights the complexity of these experiences and the array of people’s responses to them – both victims and friends/families. What a powerful and nuanced counterpoint to the shallow, insipid and ignorant comments being aired in certain current political circles.

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  4. Wow. This might be the most powerful thing on this subject I have ever read. I hope it is comfort to someone out there. The simple truth is that you don’t know how you will react in most situations (although you would like to think you know how you will react) until your in it. Victims of sexual assault are no different. If you have a plan and have rehearsed it and you follow it – good for you. If you have a plan and have to toss out the window – good for you. Survival is the only thing that matters. I had a plan, it went differently than I planned. I survived, and that is all that mattered.

  5. Very well written! Thank you for taking the time to write this! I can relate to many of those responses and feelings… and blamed myself for a long time for the lack of response in others! I especially can relate to your paragraph…

    When a woman has been raped, she’s damaged goods forever. Nothing anyone can do or say will restore her to the person she was before the attack. It changes how she sees the world, the people around her and herself. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.

    For many years I have believed the lie that it was always my fault or that I deserved it because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong guys…. And I have felt tainted and unworthy of a good mans love for way to long.

    I have spent the last couple years really working on healing from the past and I know I have a long way to go but do see how I have become a survivor through it all.

    Thanks again for writing this blog!

  6. Pingback: How a Woman Who Is Raped Behaves « Worse then PMS

  7. you’ve written what ought to have been, long ago. A few know it, fewer practice. I hope this reaches out to larger masses. I’ll spread my bit.

  8. Whoa. I’m kinda stunned. I was out working on campaigns the past week and I just found out today that I had so many comments pending from the last few days. I’m grateful that this piece has resonated with so many. I didn’t mean to leave your comment approvals hanging for so long. Please accept my apologies!

  9. Pingback: Saluting the braveness « Sapna's Blog

  10. Beautifully written and profound… and you are correct that we should not judge. Judging/blaming the victim is reprehensible; no one asks for it. Thanks for exploring this difficult subject with such clarity.

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  12. Appreciate the effort you have placed in expressing a horrible experience in words. I also understand that many emotions and feelings could not be expressed in words. Its just too difficult to make sense of the emotions a person undergoes. I relate to these emotions and complexity of them having gone through them although for different reasons.

  13. This is truly helpful to people like me.

    To victims:
    I thought after it has happened, you can make a choice. Wether you want to live as normal again or continue to be depressed all your lifetime but i was wrong.

    You trully are strong and survivors. May God bless and heal wounds.

    To writer:
    If you can briefly advise, this woman is a victim and is impatient, like you mentioned – dissociative disorders, and many others, how do i treat her?

  14. Mapitsi:

    Thank you for your comment, and for inspiring me to write another post on the recovery process, which I’ll work on later today. I plan on making some general observations about recovery there, but I wanted to address your question specifically here.

    When I volunteered as a counselor for survivors, I did work with one woman who had DID and about four alters. In fact, it was an interesting process because it only became apparent that she had them once we were a year into our meetings. She hadn’t been aware of them herself, and one made itself known during one of our sessions.

    I offered to help my client find a therapist who had more experience with these issues, but she didn’t want to start over, so I did the best I could. I did talk to another therapist who had worked with dissociative people before, and he helped me understand the process. This is what he said:

    1. Recognize that the system of alters was created to help a woman cope with horrendous abuse, and the system did its job. The fact that someone has DID isn’t a sign that someone is sick or wrong, but that they have endured abuse most people couldn’t even imagine.

    2. Help the client identify what their goal is in relation to the alter system. Many people decide they want to work toward integration — merging all alters into one personality. But not everyone decides to do this, and not everyone who does decide to integrate makes that decision right away. It is important to give the client the room and respect to make that decision on her own.

    3. For those who want to move toward integration, it can be a long process. Generally, it involves stages such as understanding which alters are a part of the system, mapping their relationships to each other, fostering communication among them, developing co-consciousness with the “main” personality (usually the client who presented herself for therapy), negotiation among the “main” and the alters and then integration.

    4. The process listed above takes TIME. And because it takes so much time, it requires patience. This is not a sprint; it is a marathon. If you feel like you failed because you haven’t figured it all out overnight, remember that you are working with a system that has likely been in place for years.

    5. As you work toward your goal, it is important that if you decide you want help from a professional, that they are caring, knowledgeable, nonjudgmental and competent. If a particular therapist isn’t working well for you, there is no shame in asking for a referral to someone who has more experience in this area or who simply meshes better with you.

    Mapitsi, I have no idea where you are in this process, and I’m hesitant to give you specific ideas without knowing you. I simply don’t know what you’ve been through and where you are today. But I am concerned for you – have you found someone who can work with you on this? Do you want help trying to find someone? If you are in the US, the organization RAINN may be able to help you find someone in your area. Many rape crisis centers offer free counseling. Their number is 800-656-4673.

    I wish I could offer more help than that, but I hope you are on your way to recovery.

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