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Conceptualizing the Harm Done by Rape: Applications of Trauma Theory to Experiences of Sexual Assault

NCJ Number
Trauma, Violence, & Abuse: A Review Journal Volume: 4 Issue: 4 Dated: October 2003 Pages: 309-322
Sharon M. Wasco
Jon R. Conte
Date Published
October 2003
14 pages
This article highlights the ways that the trauma response paradigm and the diagnostic classification of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), when used as lens for viewing sexual violence, may restrict the understanding of survivors’ experiences.
Critics of contemporary trauma frameworks, such as trauma response models and notions of posttraumatic stress have fallen short in understanding the full range of experiences of abused women and can be exclusionary, tending to decontextualize acts of violence against women. This article highlights the limitations of trauma response models and applications of posttraumatic stress to characterize the experiences of women who are raped. Two primary questions guide the review and discussion presented in this article: (1) are women’s experiences of sexual assault adequately characterized by contemporary definitions of trauma and symptoms of posttraumatic stress and (2) how can one build upon the posttraumatic stress framework to improve the understanding of postassault experiences such as distress and recovery? The evidence presented does not support the replacement of the posttraumatic stress model with better, more inclusive diagnostic criteria for rape harm. These may be considered misguided. The findings do suggest that the understanding of a broad range of postassault experiences including, posttraumatic stress by explicitly considering the social context of sexual violence in approaches to working with survivors be improved. Broad conceptualizations of rape and the harm it causes may lead to clinical and community interventions that address a wider range of injury to victims. It is hoped that the ideas presented in this article can be used to expand understandings of other traumas. References


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