Breaking the Silence: Navigating the Truths and Myths of Rape

Rape is a form of sexual harm, sometimes also called sexual assault or sexual violence. Sexual harm is the ‘umbrella’ term which includes any unwanted sexual contact or behaviours including:

  • rape (including attempted rape)
  • penetration (vaginal, anal or oral) with a body part or an object
  • touching
  • kissing
  • other sexual practices or behaviours

Rape can be a one-off event or it may have happened lots of times. It can involve one or more people. Often, but not always, sexual harm involves fear, force, or coercion such as using threats to make someone do something. People who are raped often know the perpetrator. Is it very common for rape to happen at, or near the raped person’s home.

Myths about rape

Myth: They were asking for it

The victim doesn’t have to say ‘no’ for it to be rape or sexual harm. Often people can go into a freeze response when they are overwhelmed or feeling unsafe. This means that they may not be able to move, speak or even think clearly. Any sexual activity that doesn’t have a clear and enthusiastic ‘yes’ from both/all parties should be taken as a ‘no’.

Unwanted or forced sex can happen between partners or spouses. It is not a partner’s “duty” to have sex with their partner against their will. In heterosexual marriages, up to 14% of wives report having unwanted sex with their husbands. This is known as marital rape and it often happens repeatedly throughout a relationship. This may surprise you, but waking up to your partner having intercourse with you is classed as rape. In Australia, it is illegal to have unwanted or forced sex with your partner or spouse.

But remember, regardless of the circumstances, what happened to you is never your fault. Even though it can be incredibly challenging and normal not to blame yourself, please know that you did nothing wrong. It doesn’t matter what you said or did, how you behaved, what you wore, or any other factor, it’s not your fault!

The responsibility lies solely with the perpetrator, not with you. Your experience is your experience, and your feelings are understandable and normal. You deserve compassion, support, and understanding as you work through this. 

There can be many physical, mental, and emotional consequences that come in the hours, days, weeks, and even years after rape.  Soon after the event, you may need to attend a hospital or see a doctor for help with any injuries such as broken bones, skin tears, or bruises. You may also seek help from a sexual health specialist to prevent unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

Emotional support is also available from counsellors and therapists to help with trauma, shock, anxiety, fear, depression, intimacy issues, and other difficulties. You may experience PTSD type symptoms such as flashbacks, dreams, or fight/freeze states.

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Seeking help and support from professionals who specialise in trauma recovery is okay. We can use Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), we know it helps people process and heal from traumatic experiences like rape. Therapy can provide a safe space to explore your emotions, work through trauma-related symptoms, and develop coping strategies for healing and moving forward. 

If you can, reach out for support. Australia’s national sexual assault helpline 1800 656 4673.  Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. If someone you know has been raped, ask them if you can reach out for help on their behalf if they cannot. Don’t assume that they want help – always ask first and respect their decision. Sometimes just being there is the best thing you can do for a friend who has just experienced trauma.

Know that you are not alone in this, and your life does not have to be dictated by what happened to you.

Kellie Payne Psychotherapist and Counsellor, Midland, Perth

About the author

Kellie Sheldon is the owner and operator of Kellie Sheldon Trauma and Sex Counselling in Midland, Western Australia. She holds a Master of Counselling Practice from Tabor College in Perth. Specialising in trauma and sexual therapy, she focuses on aiding adults in forming secure connections. With a particular interest in kink, BDSM and trauma, she is adept in techniques like EMDR to assist clients in processing negative and traumatic memories. Kellie is a firm advocate for therapy's potential to alleviate symptoms stemming from childhood or relationship trauma. Her primary goal is to accompany her clients on their journey toward healing, recognising that healing involves not just addressing past events but also acknowledging what hasn't occurred.

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