Grief: Is It Possible to Have a Worthwhile Life After Sexual Abuse?

Rape, by definition, is an attack or an attempted attack that involves unwanted sexual contact with penetration, in a relationship between an offender and a victim, where the victim lacks the consent (Bartol, 2020). This definition seems to be very straightforward, however, it does not fully explain why a plethora of victims never report this act of sexual violence but go through mental, physical or both traumas and grieve. What does stand behind this complicated grief? Why are some treatments not effective? What are those psychological tricks that sexual offenders apply to their victims so that they question whether it is possible to live a worthwhile life or not after the sexual abuse they were exposed to? 


Before shedding some light on the complexity of sexual-related crimes, it is worth it to look at some important facts: the victimization data on adult females within relationship factors. Precisely, 24.4 % of sexual assaulters are strangers, 21.9 % are husbands or ex-husbands, 19.5 % are boyfriends or ex-boyfriends, 14.6 % are acquaitances such as friends or neighbors and 9.8 % are relatives (Bartol, 2020). Thus, one can conclude that the majority of rape cases are indeed conducted by strangers and those who victims might have a relationship with. That being said, there is a puzzle being raised: why don’t rape victims report to the police about what happened to them and prefer to grieve in silence? Clearly, those rape cases that involve intimate partners might have a logical explanation since victims have fear to confess that their husband or boyfriend has exposed them to sexual violence, especially if an offender and a victim turn to have a family together, and a raped woman is willing to protect her children. However, what about those cases when a stranger is involved? What does stop a female to report the sexual crime if there is no personal connection to the perpetrator? To answer these questions, it might be informative to analyze the tapes of 911 calls that were made despite the unwillingness of victims to report. 


Now, if we refer to 911 calls, it might be noticed that the relationship between a perpetrator and a victim is not that complete and obvious as it seems from the first sight. To illustrate this, an array of 911 calls show that a victim usually blames herself for the sexual violent acts occurred because, first, most likely this victim meets her perpetrator in the bar, next, typically the rape itself happens in the victim’s house, and finally, the victim emphasizes her fault since she was drinking alcohol that led to these adverse consequences (Sexual Assault, Media Education Foundation). From the tapes’ perspective, it becomes clear that the victim’s role in this relationship tends to get dual. In others words, we get a victim, a woman who realizes that she was exposed to sexual abuse and violations of her rights, and an “unnamed conspirator” who keeps whispering to this woman “listen, this is you who drank with him, invited him to your house, drove with him in your own car, and eventually brought him to your house”. The concept of an “unnamed conspirator” (Munch, 2012) is not new, it was developed by Anne Munch, an advocate for victims of sexual assault and stalking, who discovered the presence of the third side existing in the relationship between a victim and an offender. This theoretical discovery in the field of sexual-related crimes and trauma is very crucial because it demonstrates a strong influence of this “unnamed conspirator” that we can call as some sort of moral rules “follower” that dictates a victim to obey them, and since they were infringed, a victim experienced a terrible feeling of fault and sacrifices herself as a martyr who is exposed to suffering. And this is the moment when the grief comes into play. A victim is convinced by this “unnamed conspirator” that she has broken the moral code, and she prefers to isolate herself from society, thinking that this society will actually judge her since she was this initiator of the sexual act, she is convinced that it was not sexual assault or rape, it’s her who should be blamed in every single consequence. Thus, applying this theory we can conclude that a perpetrator exposes his victim not only to physical violent acts but also to psychological traps knowing in advance that the victim will “interact” with the “unnamed conspirator” and this element of their relationship will contribute to putting the victim into endless cycles of fault and grief, meaning there is a potential guarantee that she won’t report about him to the police. This scenario serves as a example of a violent culture that keeps growing especially in the community of young females who study at college (indeed, this victim profile is the most frequent one for perpetrators to deal with since young females find themselves irresponsible in a sense due to drinking in a bar and as a result going through basically negative consequences they have created themselves – this is a typical logic of a victim that was exposed to sexual violence by a stranger). This leads us to horrendous traumas that young women experience by binding themselves with “grief handcuffs” from their young age.


After this theoretical analysis, one should refer to traumas themselves. Particularly, this can be the rape trauma syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder (Bartol, 2020). “Grief” argument is exactly related to this psychological traumatic experience because the main syndromes go around anxiety, feelings of helplessness, shame, depression or the development of phobias. However, it also does not exclude the physical malfunction either since rape trauma sydnrome includes sexual dysfynction as well. Now, the treatment for traumas linked to sexual abuse might seem to be simple to follow as it is usually advised to seek for a trauma therapist; join some supporting groups in order not feel alone or disclose to those ones who a victim trusts in order to feel support and overcome this crisis. This is why it is worth it to look at the Survivor Therapy Empowerment Program that was elaborated by Dr. Walker (2013). This program is based on the principles of trauma and feminist theories where she claims that the trauma healing should be based on safety planning, empowerment via self-care since it is a priority to take the power back to a survivor, overcoming depression to optimism and developing cognitive clarity (Walker, 2013). This treatment approach seems to be quite essential to apply for the victims of rape or domestic violence, and it was successfully developed within verbal therapeutic approaches that indeed can be a decent treatment for those who needs support and sense of belonging to the community to eradicate the feeling of loneliness.  


However, these techniques are not necessarily effective and simple to apply for those victims who are trapped inside the “grief cycle” shaped by the “unnamed conspirator”. In order to find the proper treatment for these specific cases, one should understand what the grief cycle is. For example, the model of Kubler-Ross (1969) includes 5 stages of grief which are denial (the stage that helps the victim to survive “loss”), anger (the stage when the victim lives the terrible reality), bargaining (the stage of false hope), depression (the stage that represents the emptiness the victim feels) and acceptance (the stage when the victim tries to start living with what has happened). Having this knowledge in mind, it might be possible to consider another type of trauma treatment that involves 2 phases of therapy: medical and psychological. From the medical perspective, the prescription of medications such as sedatives or anti-depressants influences the victim inside while assisting in functioning the nervous system properly via supporting the sleep process and suppressing the grief during the day time. When it comes to the psychological approaches, counselling still might be a beneficial verbal therapy that as we can see from the above mentioned programs is capable of producing positive results. Nevertheless, an amalgam of both approaches should be applied since the grief cycle is not just a complex phenomenon consisting of different stages but also a mental trap that victims are exposed to in sexual violence and it requires a complex treatment that doesn’t leave aside neither the physical nor mental elements of a female body.       


Works cited 


  1. Bartol, C. R., & Bartol, A. M. (2020). Criminal behavior: A psychological approach.
  2. Kubler-Ross E. (1969). On Death and Dying. 50th Anniversary Edition. 
  3. Munch A. (2012). Sexual Assault: Naming the Unnamed Conspirator. Media Education Foundation. 
  4. Walker L. (2013). Domestic Violence and Survivor Therapy Empowerment Program.    

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