October 29, 2009, Updated September 14, 2012

A new Israeli study finds that the trauma of being raped is distinct from all other psychotraumas, and rape victims may need more long-term care.


Even when compared with the trauma of war, a serious car accident, prolonged illness and the death of a loved one, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is most difficult to handle with victims of rape. The experience of being raped appears to have a more lasting effect than all other forms of psychotrauma, including terrorism, Israeli researchers found in a recent study.

Rape victims, they advise, should be monitored carefully by doctors and healthcare providers, and special healthcare coverage should be provided for them with long-term management plans in mind.

Interested in understanding more about the lasting effects of terrorism on Israelis who live close to the border with Lebanon in the north, and the border with Gaza in the Negev Desert in the south, Moshe Farchi and his partner Avigail Moor, both from the Tel Hai Academic College in the north of Israel, based their recent study on an American questionnaire that investigates PTSD.

Farchi was curious to know whether Israelis whose lives are disrupted by Qassam missile attacks from the Gaza Strip experience prolonged incidences of PTSD. Luckily for the people in these regions, his conclusion is that the effects of the trauma are not normally long-term. “The people who are close to Gaza and Lebanon can return to normal lives,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

Unexpected findings about rape victims

As far as Farchi knows this is the first study in the world to match a gradient of PTSD severity with a type of stressor. While American and European researchers have already found that rape can cause severe cases of PTSD, this new study builds on existing literature. It quantifies and compares the gradients of trauma, and can suggest how different traumas should be managed.

While analyzing the questionnaires completed by 341 adults who have had PTSD, the Israeli researchers attempted to quantify reactions to the stress events they had experienced – such as anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, guilt and depression – and link them to the type of trigger. Any scores between 15 and 51 on a scale of 0 to 51 suggest PTSD.

Crunching the numbers, the Israeli researchers found that victims of rape scored in the top third of the scale at 34 to 51 points, with an average of 22. This compares to victims of other traumas who accumulated an average score of 11.4. The average score was 17.5 for shell-shock during times of war, 12.7 for those in car accidents and 12.6 for people contending with serious illness.

The Israeli researchers also removed sexual harassment from the category of rape, and found that sexual harassment alone is not the same as rape, with respect to a person’s response to a traumatic event.

First study to quantify reactions to trauma

“Also sexual assault, compared to rape, is considered to be a traumatic event yet these people can go back to their daily life,” Farchi tells ISRAEL21c. “It’s good news, because what we did is to separate rape [in a class of its own]. We haven’t found any paper that is published to date that talked about scaling the kinds of traumatic events in the way we did.

“The main point of this research is that rape victims are different from all other trauma victims,” he adds. The research is now being prepared for publication in an international peer-reviewed journal.

The study was fuelled by Farchi’s interest in understanding the PTSD cases in Israel caused by ongoing conflicts and war. He says that the unstable security situation has led to high levels of PTSD symptoms, comparable to the level for sexual abuse.

“Happily there is another part of this equation: it’s about resilience among people who undergo any other trauma event [besides rape],” Farchi recounts.

One of the factors of this emotional resilience, explains Farchi, is the ability of a trauma victim to return to his or her previous level of functioning. Compared to any other group, “rape victims have more problems returning to their daily functioning,” says Farchi, noting that resilience in general is more complex than just returning to life as it was.

Considerations for America’s new healthcare bill

The implications of this new research may be broad. Social workers now have clues that can help them to identify those at greater risk. And healthcare providers have some new insight into how rape victims should be managed. Most importantly, says Farchi, this is news that insurance companies need to use to update their statistics.

“Rape must be considered to be a very highly-rated PTSD problem, more than car accidents,” he says, recommending that HMOs in the US consider rape high-priority and ensure that its victims are eligible for long-term care.

Trauma, like rape, doesn’t age, he adds: “PTSD is a relative trauma, as though it happens every day. A girl raped, in her mind is being raped [again and again] every day. A small trigger can remind her of the event.” Farchi suggests classical treatments such as CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – as the initial therapy that should be employed to help those with PTSD, regardless of its cause.

This treatment presents “a good reduction of the symptoms so you can just start living again,” he says, adding that in light of his new findings, women or men who have experienced rape will likely be undergoing such treatments more frequently and for longer periods of time, than will those who suffer from other types of trauma.


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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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