Because of myths that state that only stranger rape is real rape, and that partner rape is less serious and harmful than other kinds of rape, you may think that there is something wrong with you for feeling distress about it. Be assured you're experiencing a normal response to abnormal behaviour. Studies reveal that partner rape carries longer and graver effects than stranger rape. The affect of rape by partners has been compared to the affect of people who have been hostages. (1, 2). As well survivors of partner rape experience the highest degree of physical injury and are likely to have been raped multiple times (3) .
What follows is not an exhaustive list of effects - there are as many ways to feel about partner rape as there are survivors - but it is what is generally known about the effects of partner rape. If you're troubled by any of the effects below or others, please, do get support from a counsellor and/or other survivors who understand.
Additionally, you may have experienced a range of symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares that replicate aspects of the rape, always feeling guarded, panic attacks and depression. These are features of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Rape Trauma Syndrome is similar to PTSD but has some rape specific symptoms. The symptoms can feel pretty terrible, but are manageable, and tend to alleviate as the trauma is processed. As a survivor of partner rape, you have been traumatized, and you deserve help. If you experience these symptoms, please speak to a counsellor. Here is a page of information about PTSD and Rape Trauma Syndrome.
Deirdre of the Sorrows - John Duncan, 19th Century
COMMON RESPONSES TO IPSV
Raquel Bergen (4) found several ways that women respond to partner rape They are ways of dealing with the shock or the fear of it happening again. Some of them are forms of denial, and they might involve:
Denial, e.g.: "That didn't happen"; "It's only rape if it's a stranger," "He wouldn't really hurt me."
Rationalizing; e.g: 'it was just a one-off aberration and won't happen again' (especially if the man isn't habitually violent). Self-blame is also a form of rationalization, e.g: "I should be a better wife and then it wouldn't happen," or "it was my fault because I led him on".
Minimizing, e.g:. "It's not that bad really"; "At least he didn't beat me up."
Disassociation, e.g.: 'I refuse to think about this"; "I have no feeling about it".
Some women find that they try hard to focus on the good parts of the relationship, or that they preserve an image of the partners as 'good at the expense of making themselves the bad one.
Women who are unable to leave might employ strategies to avoid being raped again; some become fearful and placating, try to stay out of a partner's way if they sense danger. They may submit to certain acts in order to avoid further physical degradation or injury (5).
A strategy I employed was what I call 'normalizing' - I would do repetitious housework because it was something boringly normal that restored my sanity. Some women might also employ self-soothing strategies like showers, a cigarette, or getting lost in a television program. Self-numbing through drugs and alcohol can also happen and this can present a whole other set of problems.
SHORT AND LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF IPSV
Finkelhor and Yllo (6) found the following affects in their study of marital rape survivors:
Betrayal and shock that somebody they loved or felt safe with could hurt them that way.
Humiliation and a sense of being "dirty" - they felt that if somebody who professed love could do that to them, they must be bad, or have deserved it somehow.
Anger and Guilt: women felt that if they had been better partners or at other aspects of the relationship, it would not have happened.
Inability to trust men - Hardly surprising when rape comes from somebody who's supposed to love you!
Inability to feel comfortable with sex or intimacy
Fear- victims of rape by their partners had a tendency to fear being assaulted again for
PHYSICAL EFFECTS OF IPSV
he following physical effects are found in women raped by their partners:
Nausea and vomiting - (This is also something I have experienced with the unfolding of memory and feeling over the years. ) (7)
Injuries - Women subjected to chronic or very violent rape might experience damage to their genitals and rectum (8).
Pregnancy - Men may rape partners with the intent of impregnating them, to get them to stay in the relationship, or to return to it (9). Pregnancy may also, of course, be incidental to the rape.
Vaginismus & Dyspareunia - Ongoing problems may be Vaginismus, a condition where the vaginal muscles tighten so as to make penile penetration impossible or extremely painful, or Dyspareunia, which is painful sexual intercourse (10).
STD - Domestic Violence has been positively correlated with the spread of HIV/AIDS as infected men force sex on their partners to infect them and prevent them from leaving (11).
EFFECTS ON TEENAGE SURVIVORS
K J Wilson writes about the effects of rape on teenage survivors being abused by boyfriends (12):
A sense of loss of personal integrity
Sense of Loss of Control
Damage to Emerging Sexual Identity
Lowered School performance
Withdrawal from school or social activities.
Flagrant promiscuous behaviour
Drug and Alcohol abuse
Risk-taking and other self-destructive behaviour
Alienation - a sense that nobody can understand.
People often assume that it's easy for teenage girls to just dump bad boyfriends - the underestimate the bonding that happens. Teenage girls are also subject to the dynamics of abuse that undermine their ability to leave. They may believe that forced or coercive sex is a normal part of a relationship, or that they deserve it.
If you are a teenage girl reading this, it's really essential that you know there is a way out. Please, take one trusted adult into your confidence.
If there's nobody you believe you can trust, why don't you start with a hotline? Teenage survivors over 16 are also most welcome at Pandora's Aquarium.
If you are a younger teenager, please see this page and this page for resources.
Crisis lines for young people can also be found here. Trust me, this is wrong - you are a beautiful girl of worth and you don't deserve it. I have a special page for teenage survivors here.
OTHER ABUSES IN YOUR LIFE?
you have experienced earlier rape or child sexual abuse, the trauma caused by partner rape might be worsened, because earlier traumas tend to piggyback themselves in on fresh ones. Don't be alarmed if, for example, childhood flashbacks are mixed in with later ones. Be very gentle with yourself and get plenty of support. You may need to seek counselling to heal from these earlier events. For support from other survivors of multiple instances of abuse, you're welcome to join Pandora's Aquarium.
Finkelhor, D.and Yllo, K., License to Rape: Sexual Abuse of Wives, The Free Press, New York 1985;
Russell, Diana E.H., Rape in Marriage, Indiana University Press, USA 1990