Rape and Recovery: Survivors Speak Out

By Norment, Lynn | Ebony, April 2002 | Go to article overview
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Rape and Recovery: Survivors Speak Out

Norment, Lynn, Ebony

RAPE is a life-altering event. Some women who are raped are affected by the trauma for the rest of their lives. Survivors--those who have been raped prefer to be called "survivors," not victims--experience numerous psychological problems, in addition to physical trauma.

One woman describes rape as "the most horrific event in my life. It broke my spirit and weakened my sense of worth and self-value." Another says that even though the traumatic incident happened many years ago, she is still haunted by her night of terror. One survivor cried throughout her interview with EBONY, though the rape occurred some 10 years ago. Rape affects how survivors live their lives and view themselves, how they relate to the men in their lives and others they feel did not protect them from the crime.

According to the National Black Women's Health Project based in Washington, D.C.:

* A woman is raped every 2 minutes.

* An attempted rape occurs every 3 minutes.

* Black women have higher rates of sexual assault.

* Approximately 40 percent of Black women report coercive contact of a sexual nature by age 18.

* Divorced or separated, urban and poor women ages 16 to 24 have the highest rates of rape and assault.

* Women in households with incomes of $15,000 or less are three times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted. Black women are more likely to be poor.

The Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center reports that 12.1 million American women have been victims of "forcible" rape; one out of even, eight adult American women has been the victim of forcible rape in her lifetime. It is estimated that close to 700,000 women are raped each year. One in four college women will be sexually assaulted before they graduate.

Making these numbers even more disturbing is the fact that 80 percent are assaulted by people they know--husbands and boyfriends, former husbands and former boyfriends, fathers, stepfathers and boyfriends of the mother, as well as other family members and acquaintances. More than 40 percent of rapes occur in the survivor's home.

What must be done, according to rape survivor advocates, therapists and survivors themselves, is that society in general must be made aware of the severity and pervasiveness of the problem. Consequently, steps must be taken by schools, churches and other community institutions to educate men, women and the public about what rape is and how to prevent it. Local authorities must fortify support systems for survivors so that they won't be victimized a second or third time by misinformed or insensitive law enforcement and medical professionals. Counseling should be available to every survivor. In addition, widespread myths about rape and sexual assault must be dispelled and people must be made to understand what rape is and what is acceptable behavior when it comes to sexual acts.

Men and women both must understand that rape is a crime of violence, not a crime of passion, as many people still believe. "Rape is about violence and control," says Rachel Youree, CSW, clinical manager of the Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program in New York City. "It is hard for people to understand that point because rape involves sexual contact. A rapist is trying to get control. That is also the case with rape without penetration, sexual assault and sodomy. They all are violent, regardless of whether there is penetration."

Rape is sexual intercourse with a woman or man without consent and chiefly by force or deception. Sexual assault is forced sexual behavior--such as oral sex, anal sex and fondling--with no penetration.

Charlotte Pierce-Baker, author of Surviving the Silence: Black Women's Stories of Rape, says the one thing she didn't want after she was raped was pity. "I bought into the whole mythology of rape," she says. "I felt this had sullied me or dirtied me in some way.

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