Rape, and the lasting effect it has on humans emotionally

I have a theory regarding the psychological ramifications of rape, particularly where it applies to heterosexual rape and women, and I’d like for the Doper collective to bring their considerable intellectual expertise to bear on it.

It is my experience that the majority of women in this world have been subjected to rape in one form or another. It is also my experience that the majority of those women that were subjected to rape suffer lasting (typically lifelong) emotional distress and even crippling internal torture as a result of the physical and psychological act that takes place during the course of the assault. There are those few women that simply cannot function as human beings for stretches of time afterward. They may have their good days mixed with nearly as many bad, where they close themselves down emotionally to the people in their lives.

Some of the ramifications of the incident have been well-documented and have become useful guides to look for when attempting to determine whether or not a person may have been raped. Some of these signs to look for include long showers immediately after the incident (as if to suggest cleaning the act and the rapist from their body), a person that is detached emotionally or simply hides themselves away from others, drastic clothing changes that hide her shape or skin in ways she never did before, or feelings of guilt or feelings that the incident was brought upon due to a perception of responsibility on the part of the victim (sharing the responsibility for the reason the incident occurred).

So how does a victim go about feeling dirty and responsible for their very own rape when they obviously struggled to fight the person off or were forced to go through with it under the fear of injury or death, or simply was clear in their mind at the moment before the incident that it was not a mutual interaction that was about to take place?

My theory is based upon the fact that all functions of sexual stimulation are a part of the dynamic interaction of the parasympathetic and sympathetic parts of your autonomic nervous system. in brief, certain components of your nervous system are triggered without your control and even beyond your will, if necessary for a particular event to take place. Say, an orgasm or even a slight feeling of being sexually stimulated, for instance. This is a part of our fundamental evolutionary survival.

Map this onto a specific situation such as rape, where one person is being forced into a submissive sexual situation by another. You would expect that the person being raped would demonstrate absolutely zero desire to participate in the incident, and you would be correct. Being male (and having never been raped) I can only imagine how invasive and terrifying rape can be.

But what if during the incident the woman happened to notice a very subtle feeling or change deep in her body that was interpreted as a kind of slight compliance? What if she ever-so-slightly shifted (albeit completely involuntary) her pelvis to allow for easier entry of her attacker and her conscious self picked up on it? What if she noticed that she was losing the will to continue to fight the attacker off? How would these things be interpreted by her?

Is it possible that she may think that her body was betraying her? Would she feel guilty because she developed thoughts in her head that since her body responded positively (in one or a number of ways) to the attack, that she somehow wanted it to happen? Perhaps she would begin to feel that maybe she must have wanted it to happen after a more careful consideration of the event after the fact. What if her attacker sensed her involuntary shifting of the pelvis himself and interpreted it as her assisting him? Aren’t rapist fond of saying things like “Yeah, you know you want it.” during the rape, perhaps in response to sensing such an occurrence? Wouldn’t the woman consider in her mind that she somehow must have wanted to be raped if even her attacker sensed her shifting to accommodate him?

*Why didn’t I fight him off harder or yell out when I could have?

Why didn’t I immediately tell my parents or the police?

And why was I wearing that low cut shirt anyway?*

It is my theory that the aftermath of the attack and the psychological effects of it are a result not merely of the rape itself, but also the woman’s sensing her body’s perceived compliance to the rape and what she feels that might say about her. If she feels her body somehow betrayed her during the incident, and since we don’t compartmentalize our bodies well enough from our minds to understand the dynamic of the sympathetic and parasympathetic components of our autonomic nervous system, wouldn’t the natural course of the events lead her to share responsibility for the rape, thereby making herself feel as ‘dirty’ as her attacker? Wouldn’t this prevent her from speaking out about the rape or reporting the crime? Wouldn’t this manifest guilt cause her to question her sexual integrity (whatever that means) to the point that it causes problems with sexual relationships in her future?

I hope I’ve made my points and questions clear, and thank you for taking the time to consider them.

I should also mention that this theory came about as a result of a discussion I had with a friend who described a situation once where her husband tied her up and raped her. She recalled that she felt her body betrayed her in that she felt herself respond positively at certain points during the rape and felt dirty for it afterwards. She described the betrayal as subtle and involuntary and I made the leap into the sympathetic/parasympathetic dynamic and constructed the theory based upon that.

Did I misunderstand you? You believe that a majority, or 50%+1 women in the world have been raped?!?

In one form or another, and considering all forms of molestation as a part of it, then yes, absolutely.

I think you’d better give a concrete definition of rape before this goes forward.

You’ve piqued my curiosity. Experience is a somewhat nebulous term and I’d really be interested in knowing how you came to the conclusion that the majority of women have been raped, in one form or another. How many forms of rape are there? Fight my ignorance, please.


My theory is that the reason it’s so psychologically devastating to so many people is that they’re told it will be over and over and over again by well-meaning counselors and random people who believe it’s better to be murdered than raped. They are told that it must destroy them, that they will never get over it, that they should have long-term psychological effects and shudder in the corner afraid of men and feel dirty and all that other stuff.

I believe that if you look at it like any other assault, as a bad thing done to you by someone else, and your own behavior as doing what you have to in order to not get killed and prevent as much injury as you can, you have pretty good odds of putting the whole thing behind you.

I believe the worst possible thing you can do is tell someone that it must destroy them, that they must feel dirty and that they won’t be able to function as human beings. I believe it’s abominable to say that if someone doesn’t react that way, then they probably weren’t really raped. I believe these ‘useful guides’ and expected behaviors have done far, far more harm than they have done good.

For the sake of the discussion, let’s just assume we are talking about a typical rape scenario, standard definition. If you need to define your own particular situation for the discussion, that’s fine.

An acquaintance of mine works administrating cases of abuse in State schools and clerical institutions. They told me that unless a claimant can show they have been in therapy (ie present tangible external evidence of trauma caused) to deal with the abuse then they will not receive compensation.

Do you have evidence that your “typical” rape scenario has been experienced by over 50% of the female populace?
Are you implying that a majority of men are rapists or that there are some very busy serial rapists out there?

When I say, from my experience I mean exactly that. Obviously I don’t know every woman in the world and I can only go by my own experience. Let’s just say that I considered my own experience with every woman that I have known personally in my area, and considered it to be merely a microcosm.

Though, this really doesn’t matter much in the context of the OP, as the theory isn’t related to the percentage of women in the world that have been raped, rather the emotional ramifications of it.

Catsix, What of the women I know personally that have been grossly affected by rape that were never told how they should feel, but simply acted in that way?

It certainly matters in the sense that the percentage should be at least 50% plus 1 woman, or else your entire premise starts to crumple. Or are you now changing your premise and saing that a majority of women are affected by the “emotional ramnifications” of rape?

And what is the “standard” or “typical” definition of rape? And do you still content that a majority of women have been raped under that definition?

I agree with others; it is important to clarify this before we continue with this discussion.

I completely agree with catsix. Every woman will react to a rape (or perceived attack) differently, but there is a strong belief in our society that sexual assaults, especially on women, are somehow permanently damaging. Some people may never recover fully from a rape, like some people may never recover fully from a mugging or a full-body beating. Each individual will respond and recover differently to trauma.

But women are expected to not recover from rape. It is the only other crime I can think of along with child molestation where the victim is told over and over that their life will never be the same again, and that they are permanently damaged.

Surely some self-fulfillment is happening.

My guess, based on the many and varied ways that different people respond to or react to any number of psychological traumas, that different traumas affect differeent people in different ways. It may be possible, by studying the reactions of particular responses to specific events in a rigorous fashion, that we may be able to to predict the responses of some number of people in certain types of situations. I doubt that any armchair philosophizing, whether it is based on extrapolating from a single incident or based on one’s own personal beliefs, is going to actually produce anything resembling an answer.

  • (Death of parent or spouse or child at different ages, either suddenly or through extended illness. Loss of livelihood or home/shelter. Dissolution of a relationship. Disability, either from birth or later in life, sudden or over time. Add your own examples.)

No, it doesn’t matter. As a matter of fact simply remove that sentence from my post and carry on. Forget that I ever mentioned it, as my post is about the psychological effect of the victim after the rape. The number of rapes do not matter in this discussion.

They may never have been specifically told to act that way as individuals, but they’ve been exposed to a lifetime of conditioning through various types of media including movies, books, TV shows, talk shows, the news, and the public around them. How many of them heard an off-hand comment from a family member that ‘I’d rather be dead than raped’ during a news report of a rape? It’s so pervasive and all around us, you’d have to be raised completely apart from all of western society not to have heard that message.

Add in the message that the vagina is somehow more important than all other body parts, and girls are raised with that bullshit their entire lives as they’re told to stay ‘pure’ and ‘innocent’, and you have already poisoned the well.

I’m not saying there would be no women who never recovered if these messages weren’t all around us, but I do believe that many more would find it easier to go on with a normal life if the attitude that one who has been raped is forever damaged disappeared tomorrow. I believe that it would probably be much like it is for people who are mugged or stabbed or shot or kidnapped. Some would never recover, but most would go on and be normal productive people who have put their trauma behind them.

Thank you. I was trying to find a way to say those precise words without coming across as “Mosier, who favors rapists”.

Why have we decided that sexual assault is so much worse than nonsexual physical assault, anyway?

But they were told how they should feel in the event of such a thing, probably all their lives.

There is a very strong and very common value system that considers a woman’s sexual experiences outside of those approved by social license to destroy her value to any potential mate. This value system is not limited to men. When a woman has had that value system impressed on her she is inevitably likely to see her own worth as a human being to be permanently diminished by the experience of rape. No banal assurances by others can change that.

The absence of the parallel condition in the self evaluation of men is readily apparent, although unspoken in most cases. Every word of conversation that approves sexual assertiveness in men echoes a condemnation of her, and feeds a very reasonable resentment. Every implied approval of “good girls” or sneer at women who “ask for it” is a knife in the guts to a woman who cannot even tell you what she holds herself guilty of doing.

Rage, shame, and grief are very strong emotions, and if they must be hidden, can only become stronger. I have seen how much it hurts to bring the event into the present, and tell of it. It has always been described to me by women as “admitting that I was raped.” The phrase screams out the prejudice of our social judgments. Do you admit that you were robbed? Do you admit that someone embezzled your company? No, you report it.

And then, a chance comes to reestablish a sexual relationship with a man. Hell, most of us walk on eggshells during the courtship rituals, however abbreviated they have become. If they are landmines instead of eggshells, the entire process is very risky, unless you disengage your emotions entirely, and become an emotional spectator. Now you have reenacted the rape, with a new partner. Victims all around. Or, you find that you’re a reasonably ordinary woman that finds sexually aggressive men attractive, and feel a strong sexual urge because of that attraction. See? You really did ask for it all along. And if you don’t, well you’re a frigid bitch, turned off by sex.

Men who are raped are just as harmed by it. You have some aspects of it with less tradition, but lots of really bad advice implied in attitudes. The fact that the crime is more rare doesn’t help if you are one of the victims.

Rape is violence against the very desire for intimacy. It poisons even non sexual intimacy with fear, distrust, loathing, anger, and coming out of it all is something that pretty much cannot be done alone. But not being alone is pretty hard to arrange, when you can’t trust anyone to begin with.


This is true. Violence on males is also very common (I believe, even more common than violence on females), but no one talks about how men who have been shot or knifed or beaten to a pulp may never recover or are forever changed.

Of course, not letting someone talk about how bad they feel is probably just as bad as telling them over and over again that they’re broken or wounded inside.