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Rape Trauma Syndrome

NCJ Number
Criminal Law Bulletin Volume: 33 Issue: 3 Dated: (May-June 1997) Pages: 270-279
P Giannelli
Date Published
10 pages
The phrase "rape trauma syndrome" (RTS) was coined in 1974 to describe behavioral, somatic, and psychological reactions of rape victims and attempted rape victims; recent research concludes that RTS is a type of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Based on interviews with 146 women, researchers found victims usually progress through a two-phase process, an acute phase and a long-term reorganization phase. At the same time, critics questioned the scientific basis of RTS evidence. Later research conceptualized rape trauma in terms of specific symptoms rather than in terms of more general recovery stages. RTS is now recognized as a type of post-traumatic stress disorder and is characterized in terms of such symptoms as fear, anxiety, depression, social maladjustment, and sexual dysfunction. Research has also explored the use of expert testimony in rape trauma syndrome cases, has attempted to determine whether the typical jury knows about the effects of rape, and has assessed the impact of expert testimony on juries. RTS evidence may be offered at trial to prove lack of consent by the alleged victim and to explain postincident conduct by a victim that a jury might perceive as inconsistent with the claim of rape. The admissibility of RTS evidence is discussed with respect to lack of consent, explanations of behavior, defense arguments, and the psychological examination of victims. 55 footnotes