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Health & Balance

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Is the Silence Broken?

30 years after rape crisis centers, women are being heard.

Advances in Psychological Care

Research underscores the profound and complex trauma experienced by rape victims. A study funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse found in the early 1990s that survivors were at increased risk for a broad array of mental health problems, from attempted suicide, to increased drug and alcohol abuse, to major depressive episodes.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, a debilitating condition arising after trauma such as combat, is now recognized as a common consequence of rape, said Ivonne Zarate, educational coordinator of the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center. Zarate noted that a form of this disorder -- referred to as rape trauma syndrome (RTS) -- strikes, at some point in their lives, a third of those who've been raped.

Fortunately, advocates and counselors at many rape trauma rooms are trained to recognize the physical, mental, and behavioral stress reactions that come with RTS and can address the problem early. Spouses, children, lovers, and friends may also be significantly affected by a survivor's rape. Most crisis centers provide free counseling to all those in her circle.

Despite the innovations, though, a majority of people fall through the cracks. According to a U.S. Department of Justice survey, only about 16% of rape victims -- of all ages -- report the crime in the first place. Overall, says Marybeth Carter, the message still needs to get out to communities, to parents, to doctors: Rape can happen to anyone, anywhere -- and when it does, comprehensive care is a necessity.

Jolie Ann Bales is an attorney based in Berkeley, Calif. She has written for a number of legal and business publications.

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