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Support after Rape

Air Date: 10/28/10 Dr. Rebecca Jankovich, PhD can be reached at 322-1839. 10-28-10 Support After RapeIt's a nightmare to have your daughter tell you she's been raped. You feel an entire range of emotions: you want to kill the scum that hurt your child; you feel guilt for not protecting her; you're angry at her for putting herself in a position where this could have happened but you know you can't get angry at her when she's just been traumatized; you're worried about how this violent act is going to change the rest of her life; you're sad she's lost her innocence and ability to see the world as a "safe" place; you want to "fix" her distress and make all the pain go away. You're a tangle of your own emotions and now you have to focus on her.It may be counter intuitive, but it IS best to keep her talking about the rape. Parents, especially fathers, are sometimes reluctant to keep pushing for more talk and details because the talking throws their daughter into more distress, more tears; sometimes the young woman doesn't want to talk about it because they also want to avoid the pain that's triggered by recalling the event. But to work through the emotions of the trauma, it's best for her to talk, and talk, and talk. We know that repetitively talking through a trauma until the story no longer triggers tears, is one of the most effective paths to recovery. The talking about the trauma can go on for weeks or even months; it's only over when the young woman is able to talk through what happened without dissolving into painful emotions. So, keep her talking. Some people tend to avoid pain and just shut down emotionally; you'll know if your daughter has this defense style. If your daughter doesn't want to talk, you can give her a few days to sit with her own feelings and respect her wish to avoid the subject, but tell her she will have to talk about it in order to get through this. After a few days, ask her what happened, and if she stonewalls you, then tell her she has to go to a therapist; she gets the choice to not talk about it with you, but she doesn't get the choice to not talk about it.I've watched parents agonize over whether to force their daughter to report the rape to the police. The hoped for benefit from reporting is that the rapist will be caught, tried, incarcerated and prevented from hurting other women; the theory is that by reporting the rape, the woman is empowered that she could exact justice against the man who attacked her, and that she'll have closure when he's punished. If the rape is going to be reported, it should be reported as soon as possible after the attack and the woman should not shower or try to clean herself from the filth she feels from the rapist the police need this as evidence. The easiest way to report is to go to a hospital emergency room and tell them the woman has been raped. Often, a trained woman volunteer is called to help the woman go through the gynecological and forensic physical exam. The exam includes a pelvic exam which can re-traumatize the woman who's just been raped; the physician tries to recover a sperm sample, comb for pubic hairs transferred from the rapist to the woman, any evidence of the rapist's DNA that might be found under the woman's fingernails or on her body. You can imagine the young woman's dilemma over whether she wants to go through all this right in the aftermath of the trauma of being raped. She watches TV, she knows what might next happen: hours of police interrogation, publicity, a trial in which she has to relive the attack on the stand, and then the rapist may or may not be convicted. The value to the woman of going through all this is not straightforward. If your daughter wants to march through this process, by all means, give her your support and go to the Emergency Room. If your daughter is less of a warrior, more drawn into herself, and she doesn't want to go through all this, perhaps you should support her awareness of who she is, and allow her to not go to the ER to make a report. As parents, consider what's best for your daughter. Not what's best according to popular beliefs that you should report the rape to facilitate the woman's recovery from trauma; but what's best for your daughter. If she chooses to not report now, she can always file a police report down the road; she won't have the physical evidence to prove her report and he may not be convicted, but she'll have the satisfaction of putting it on record that this man attacked her and it will be there to help the next woman who is attacked.It takes months, even years for a woman to work through the trauma of being raped. Have patience with your daughter; she's likely to be depressed for awhile or go off the deep end with partying and irresponsibility. Keep her talking and get her to a therapist.