How Blame and Shame Can Fuel Depression in Rape Victims
Breaking the silence: How self-blame and victim-blaming can cause PTSD.
A study examined the impact of blame and shame on PTSD and depression in rape victims.
The study authors emphasized the importance of recognizing rape-related shame and general shame.
Self-blame and victim-blaming perpetuate the suffering of rape victims.
Rape is a heinous crime that can have long-lasting physical and psychological consequences for the victim. In addition to physical injuries, rape can lead to mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, approximately 1 in 5 women in the United States has experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. This prevalence makes it crucial to address the psychological impact of rape and identify the factors contributing to PTSD and depression.
A recent study conducted by Prachi H. Bhuptani and Terri L. Messman (2023) investigated the role of blame and rape-related shame in distress among rape victims. The study aimed to identify which type of shame is relevant in contributing to PTSD and depression in rape victims. The researchers hypothesized that self-blame and victim-blaming responses to rape disclosure would indirectly impact PTSD and depression via rape-related shame and general shame.
The study collected data through online questionnaires completed by 229 women who had experienced adult rape and disclosed it to at least one person. The results revealed distinct patterns for PTSD and depression. For PTSD, there was a significant indirect effect of victim blame (and self-blame) via rape-related shame but not via general shame. In contrast, for depression, there was a significant indirect effect of victim blame (and self-blame) via both rape-related shame and general shame.
These findings are crucial in understanding the psychological impact of rape on victims. Blame and shame are frequently elevated among rape victims, and they contribute to PTSD and depression. The study highlights the importance of considering the type of shame (i.e., rape-related shame and general shame) when explaining PTSD and depression among women who experienced rape.
PTSD is a mental health disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as rape. Symptoms of PTSD include re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoiding reminders of the event, negative changes in thoughts and mood, and hyperarousal. The study found that victim blame and self-blame indirectly impacted PTSD through rape-related shame but not through general shame. Rape-related shame refers to the shame associated with the rape itself, such as feeling dirty or damaged. The study’s results suggest that victim-blaming responses to rape disclosure can exacerbate rape-related shame, leading to PTSD.
Depression is another mental health disorder that can develop after experiencing trauma such as rape. Depression is characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities. The study found that victim blame and self-blame indirectly impacted depression through both rape-related shame and general shame. General shame refers to the shame associated with one’s self-worth or identity, such as feeling worthless or inadequate. The study’s results suggest that both victim-blaming responses to rape disclosure and self-blame can lead to general shame, exacerbating depression.
The study also considered shame proneness and rape characteristics as potential moderators. Shame proneness refers to an individual’s predisposition to experience shame in response to negative events. Rape characteristics include the type of rape, the relationship between the victim and perpetrator, and the severity of the assault. However, the study found no significant moderating effects of shame proneness or rape characteristics on the relationship between blame, shame, and distress.
The findings of the study conducted by Bhuptani and Messman underscore the need for society to recognize the devastating effects of rape on its victims and to reject victim-blaming attitudes. It is crucial to provide support and resources to rape victims, including mental health services that address the specific needs of those who have experienced trauma. It is time to put an end to the shame and blame that perpetuate the suffering of rape victims and to work towards a society that empowers and supports survivors in their healing journey.
Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Toronto, Canada.