Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Sex crime victim emotion

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Sex crime victim emotion:
How do sex crimes affect victims' emotions?

Overview[edit | edit source]

What is emotion?[edit | edit source]

Emotion has been defined as “short-lived subjective–physiological–functional–expressive phenomena that orchestrate how we react adaptively to the important events in our lives” (Reeve, 2014), however a consensus has not been reached in the psychology community so this definition can differ. Put simply, emotion is a mental state and a somatic response (Cabanac, 2002). Emotions include anger, sadness, and fear, as well as positive emotions, such as joy, amusement, and contentment. Emotion is a subjective experience. Even though emotion is universal, each person experiences emotion differently, and can experience more than one emotion at once.

What is a sex crime?[edit | edit source]

A sex crime can be a number of different offences that fall into the same category, but each type of crime involves illegal or coerced sexual conduct against an individual (Find law, 2015). Sex crimes often involve some type of sexual assault or can be purely driven by sexual motive. Laws that constitute sex crimes vary by jurisdiction, and depend on a number of factors as the same crime can have varying levels of prosecution (Free Dictionary, 2015).

Forcible Sex Offenses[edit | edit source]

Forcible sex offences are offences that are widely[spelling?] recognised through various laws and may vary depending on the country. Rape is considered the most widely recognised sex offence and in the past sex offences were only prosecutable when penetration was used (Free Dictionary, 2015). Laws have since broadened the definition of rape and other sex offences, eliminating past immunities that excluded marital rape from prosecution. For instance, Australia did not criminalise marital rape until the 1980s due to the fact that marital rape fell under property laws as women were considered property. They were assumed to have given consent at all times through the marriage (Fileborn, 2011).  Sodomy is another well known forcible sexual offence due to the fact that this usually falls under generic bestiality or oral sex laws, however sodomy (between two consenting adults) is often not prosecuted due to the fact that the offence is becoming more accepted when consent is given between parties. Further, in some states sodomy is not considered a crime, however it is considered consensual sodomy in those instances (Free Dictionary, 2015).

Non-Forcible Sex Offenses[edit | edit source]

Non-forcible sex offences include any offence where the individual is unable to give consent, usually due to the fact that they are underage (usually categorised as Statutory rape). [grammar?] In Australia the age of consent varies between states (between 16-17), except for sodomy in Queensland where the individual must be 18 years old (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2015). [grammar?] Adultery and Fornication are also non-forcible acts and are still against the law in many jurisdictions, but not in Australia (Free Dictionary, 2015).

Examples of sex crimes[edit | edit source]

  • Indecent Exposure
  • Sexual Assault
  • Rape
  • Statutory Rape
  • Prostitution (and Pimping)
  • Solicitation (including transportation with intent for sexual exploitation)
  • Molestation
  • Lewd Acts

How does sex crimes affect the victim emotionally?[edit | edit source]

A girl expressing fear

This list is just a few of the emotions that have been felt by sexual assault victims in the past. Every victim and assault is different and therefore produces different emotions (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). Many contributing factors affect the emotions felt and these emotions are also felt at different levels depending on the time that has passed since the crime (Boyd, 2011). [grammar?] These emotions that are felt can also be highly dependent on the age of the victim at the time of the crime taking place, due to the development level of the victim (Yuan, Koss, & Stone, 2011).

Emotions felt by the victim[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail][explain?]

  • Powerlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Numbness
  • Denial
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Embarrassment
  • Shame
  • Anger
  • Regret

Other impacts of sex crimes[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Physical affects of sex crimes[edit | edit source]

A woman experiencing a tension headache

This list is not exhaustive, and the following physical symptoms of sexual assault victims have been attributed to psychological distress that is interpreted as an illness (called somatic symptoms), and the immune system can become weak under great amount of psychological stress, which makes these symptoms evident (Kimerling & Calhoun, 1994). These symptoms are often treated independent of the sexual crime, meaning that they are reoccurring as the main issue is not receiving any treatment (Kimerling & Calhoun, 1994).

  • Tension headaches
  • Stomach ache
  • Nausea
  • Back pain
  • Health problems
  • Allergies
  • Menstrual symptoms
  • Weight changes
  • Skin disorder
  • Migraine/headaches
  • Fainting spells
  • Asthma attacks
  • Ulcers
  • Seizures
  • Colitis

Economic impacts[edit | edit source]

The financial impacts for the victim are hard to measure. The average medical cost of a sex crime injury is $1000 for the victims that just needed standard treatment, however, more complicated sex crimes may cost more for medical treatment (Mayhew & Atkins, 2003). Emotional and physical impacts of the crime can also affect the victim's[grammar?] ability to work, losing earnings and furthermore this can go on for years, meaning that years of wages can be lost, lowering the victim's[grammar?] quality of life (Boyd, 2011). Finally, the victim often has to pay for any on going treatment such as counseling or rehabilitation, which also affects them financially.

Social impacts[edit | edit source]

The social impacts on the victim can not only be felt by them, but can be experienced by the community as a whole. This is due to the fact that the victim is often less trusting of the community (or society and general) and can exhibit antisocial behaviors that affect their relationships with friends, family and any intimate partners that they may have (Boyd, 2011). Littleton and Breitkopf (2006)[grammar?] found that the coping strategies that the victim may use (such as avoiding certain issues) can cause the reactions of the friends and family to be negative (even is the crime has only just occurred), which can cause lasting damage to the relationships and hinder the victim's[grammar?] healing process. These impacts also relate heavily to the economic issues previously mentioned, as antisocial behaviour on the victim’s part often leaves them unemployed due to there employer's inability to understand the crime, if they have been informed of the crime (Boyd, 2011).

Sexual health and pregnancy[edit | edit source]

Sexual health and pregnancy also relate to the economic impacts as medical treatment from any complications from the crime can be very expensive. A study (Hooton, et al., 1990) into rape victims found that it is hard to determine a specific risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from rape (or other types of sex crime), However of 204 women tested post rape, 88 (43%) were found to have contracted an STI. Of the STIs[grammar?] contracted, bacterial vaginosis (34%) was the most prevalent with HIV only representing 1%. The ongoing emotional, physical and economic impacts were not tested, as this study simply determined the rates of STIs among rape victims, however it was mentioned that many of the STIs[grammar?] would have long term effects (Hooton, et al., 1990).

According to Stanford law, unwanted pregnancies as a result of rape are classified as injuries in the eyes of the law (Bridges, 2013). This is due to the fact that the pregnancy causes physical and emotional change in the body and can cause emotions such as anger and sadness. The pregnancy also brings up the controversial topic of abortion and although parties who are against abortion are more sympathetic and understanding of raped women who wish to abort, abortion may still be against the woman’s moral judgement or not be available at all (Bridges, 2013). A separate study estimated that up to 5% of women who are raped will become pregnant as a result (Perry, Murphy, Haider, & Harwood, 2015). This study also concluded that women who choose to proceed with an abortion often face scrutiny from the abortion clinic staff and the general community due to their reluctance to disclose the fact that they were raped. Finally, women who choose to continue with their pregnancy can face a lifetime of economic and social impacts, as a result of giving birth to a child of rape along with the fact that in some jurisdictions the father has parental rights over the child and mother, even if they are convicted of the crime, which makes the situation even more difficult (Bridges, 2013).

Psychological disorders that are prevalent with victims of sex crimes[edit | edit source]

Anxiety Disorders[edit | edit source]

Post Traumatic Stress disorder[edit | edit source]

Soldiers often experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the most prevalent psychological disorders that can present in the victim after a sex crime has occurred (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2015). This is due to the fact that for PTSD to develop a traumatic event must occur, such as a sex crime. PTSD has characteristic symptoms and patients also exhibit intense emotions such as anger when experiencing PTSD (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Symptoms in the criteria must be present for more than a month, and significantly impact the victim's ability to function in day to day life, such as in social settings (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Criteria[edit | edit source]
  • Experiencing a traumatic event
  • Reoccurring thoughts, feelings or dreams of the traumatic event occurring
  • Intense psychological or physiological stress when cues that symbolise the event are present
  • Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, such as avoiding thoughts or social situations
  • Persistent symptoms of increased arousal, such as inability to sleep

Rape trauma syndrome[edit | edit source]

Rape trauma syndrome (RTS) is a cluster of negative physical, emotional and psychological symptoms experienced by sex crime victims. [grammar?] Rape trauma syndrome is not included in the DSM IV, largely due to the fact that it is often diagnosed as a type of PTSD (Tannura, 2014). As noted, the signs and symptoms of RTS can be similar to PTSD, and are a direct result of the trauma experienced (Parker, 2015). 

Symptoms of Rape trauma syndrome[edit | edit source]
  • Panic attacks
  • Phobias
  • Self mutilation
  • Personality disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Physical symptoms, such as migraines

Other anxiety disorders[edit | edit source]

Other anxiety disorders are often also present, and due to the overlapping symptoms with other disorders often go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed in victims (Maniglio, 2012). Obsessive compulsive disorder, where reoccurring obsessions and rituals cause distress and impact on every day life (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) is known[grammar?] to be associated with sex crimes due to the fact that many of the compulsions stem from social and physiological impacts of the victim trying to avoid emotions and reactions that remind them of the crime that was committed (Maniglio, 2012). Generalised anxiety disorder or anxiety that is unable to be diagnosed is also prevalent among victims, and is excessive worry and anxiety that occurs more days than not (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Generalised anxiety disorder often goes undiagnosed due to the victim hiding the symptoms or the symptoms being interpreted as just a side effect of the sex crime (Maniglio, 2012).

Applying emotion theories to sex crimes[edit | edit source]

An example of The James-Lange theory of emotion

[Provide more detail]

The James-Lange Theory of Emotion[edit | edit source]

The James-Lange Theory of Emotion (JATE) can be seen as one of the most influential emotional theories (Reisenzein & Stephan, 2014). JATE bases its[grammar?] theory on the premise that behaviour responds to exciting events, explaining that emotion is the learned reflex and response to physiological actions that result from stimuli (Fehr & Stern, 1970).[grammar?] Put simply, emotion is a secondary feeling, as the physiological reactions to stimuli come first.  This theory is highly applicable to the subject of sex crimes, as the crime can produce many physiological reactions such as shaking and increased heart rate, that (according to JATE) would produce emotions as a secondary response, such as fear and anger (Reisenzein & Stephan, 2014). JATE has been subject to criticism, and as a whole has been largely discredited due to the findings of proceeding theories, such as the Canon-Bard Theory of Emotion, which is explained below (Lang, 1994).

The Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion (Thalamic Theory)[edit | edit source]

An example of The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion

The Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion (Thalamic theory), created by Walter Cannon and Philip Bard in the 1920s[grammar?], was seen as the new theory of emotion, and largely discredited and criticised the James-Lange theory of Emotion (Dror, 2014). The theory addressed areas that the James-Lange theory had not, specifically theorising that the thalamic region of the brain is the coordinating centre for emotions. Due to that Cannon completed research on the thalamic region in animals which determined that once the thalamic region was removed no emotions could be expressed by the animal (Cannon, 1931). Cannon also theorised that physiological and emotional changes occur simultaneously, which directly discredits the James-Lange theory that the physiological change occurs first (Fournier, 2015).  Furthermore Cannon's[grammar?] theory also noted that the the results that James got from his studies could be attributed to fight or flight and were not accurate measures of emotions felt post-stimuli (Cannon, 1931). This theory is applicable to sex crimes, due to the fact that the crime is a large enough stimulus to produce a response and an emotion at the same time[factual?].

The Schachter-Singer Theory (Two-Factor Theory)[edit | edit source]

The Schachter-Singer Theory (Two-Factor theory) further explores the ideas of emotional causation that was first mentioned in the James-Lange and Cannon-Bard theories (Moors, 2009). The theory states that after receiving a stimuli, an immediate bodily reaction follows (such as heart rate increasing) and next a cognitive process is launched, which uses the bodily reaction and cognitive expression to determine what emotion is felt/expressed (Berthelon & Sander, 2013). The theory also notes that due to the fact that it is impossible to predict what emotion will be the outcome of a stimuli presented due to the fact that each cognitive process and bodily reaction is different. This is a slightly different take on the theory of emotion as previous theories implied that emotions can be predictable and easily replicated (Berthelon & Sander, 2013). The Schachter-Singer theorists also noted that a person witnessing someone experiencing an emotion may feel as though they have more insight into the emotion felt as they can see the bodily reaction (such as a change in facial expression), however this does not mean that an outsider would be able to predict the emotion, or have more insight than the person experiencing it (Moors, 2009). Applying this theory to the subject of sex crimes is similar to the previous theories mentioned, however the added steps attempts to further explain the emotion. A sex crime example would be assault (stimuli), heart rate increases (bodily reaction), realisation of assault or sensory register (cognitive process) and fear (emotion).

Cognitive Appraisal Theory[edit | edit source]

Cognitive Appraisal Theory was developed by Richard Lazarus and Folkman in 1984 to explain the two step process in the reactions to stress and the processes involved to get rid of the stressor and any subsequent stress (Sincero, 2015). The first step is called primary appraisal, where a stimuli or event is assessed as to how it will effect you personally. Using a sex crime example, if you are walking home on a dark street and someone starts following close to you, you will probably feel worried for your safety and want to change the situation (White, 2015). The second step is secondary appraisal where the factors of the situation are taken into consideration and a decision about how to respond is made (White, 2015). Using the example, after establishing the primary appraisal you may feel that you are in danger when someone is following you down a dark street and decide to go towards the well lit main road instead, thus changing the situation and the emotions felt.

Treatment options for victims[edit | edit source]

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy[edit | edit source]

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that has seen to be successful in treating sex crime victims who[grammar?] are affected by PTSD, RTS or other types of psychological conditions (Beck Institute , 2015). CBT aims to change the distorted thinking brought on by negative cognitive processes, by going through scenarios with patients to give more positive alternative reactions that the patient can use in the future (Beck Institute , 2015). An example using sex crimes would be if a person is always nervous in social situations due to a previous attack then presenting the more positive and likely explanations of the scenarios may show the victim that not all social situations are negative.

Narrative Therapy[edit | edit source]

Narrative therapy is a respectful and non-blaming therapy, which understands that the patient should be in charge of their therapy session as they are the experts in their own lives (Morgan, 2000). Narrative therapy can be delivered in a number of different ways, but the two man points that are consistent with narrative therapy are: curiosity must be maintained and make sure that you ask questions that you do not know the answers to (Morgan, 2000).

Narrative therapy has been seen as highly successful in victims of trauma, as it gives the power back to the victim that they have lost through a sex crime, through targeted therapy that aims to “take back” any confidence that may be lost during a sex crime or major trauma (Howard & Wirtz, 1999).

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Theory[edit | edit source]

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing theory (EMDR) was developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro in the late 1980’s for victims of serious trauma (Silver, 2015). EMDR is an eight phase therapy that identifies the experiences that have overwhelmed the brains ability to cope and addresses any negative coping strategies that the victim may have adopted (Silver, 2015). EMDR utilises various methods such as “bilateral simulation” to override the negative thoughts experienced due to trauma. This theory is especially helpful for victims of violent sex crimes, even if they are not affected by PTSD.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Emotions are help to categorise and explain how we react to events in our lives. Emotions are not always positive and negative events such as sex crimes can cause emotions such as anger or fear[factual?]. It is also important to remember although sex crimes can be classified into forcible and non-forcible offences, every sex crime is different and produces different emotions and physical outcomes. The impacts of sex crimes can last throughout the victim’s life, such as when a pregnancy or STI is the result of the crime. The anxiety disorders that can be experienced by victims can cause distorted emotions or actions and treatment is often needed as a result. The treatment options for sex crime victims include CBT, Narrative therapy and EMDR, [grammar?] and have been seen to make real improvements in the lives of sex crime victims by reducing the negative emotions that are a result of the crime. Finally, emotional theories such as the James-Lange theory of emotion, help others to understand how emotion works even if the main theory has been discredited, and helps others to accept emotions as an integral part of psychology.

References[edit | edit source]

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th edition, text revised ed.). Washinton, DC.

Australian Institute of Family Studies. (2015). Age of Consent Laws. Retrieved from Child Family Community Australia :

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Boyd, C. (2011). The impacts of sexual assault on women . Retrieved from Australian Institute of Family Studies :

Bridges, K. (2013). When pregnancy is an injury: Rape, Law and Culture. Stanford Law review , 65 (3), 457-490.

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Cannon, W. (1931). Again the James-Lange and the thalamic theories of emotion . Psychological Review , 38 (4).

Centres for disease control and prevention. (2015, March 9). Sexual Violence. Retrieved from Centres for disease control and prevention:

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Howard, J., & Wirtz, H. (1999). Putting the pieces back together again . Australian Institute of Criminology.

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Littleton, H., & Breitkopf, C. (2006). Coping with the experience of rape. Psychology of women quarterly , 30, 6-8.

Maniglio, R. (2012). Child Sexual Abuse in the Etiology of Anxiety Disorders A Systematic Review of Reviews. Department of Pedagogic, Psychological, and Didactic Sciences, University of Salento.

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Morgan, A. (2000). What is Narrative Therapy?: An Easy-to-read Introduction. Dulwich Centre Publications.

Parker, C. (2015). An Innovative Nursing Approach to Caring for an Obstetric Patient With Rape Trauma Syndrome. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing , 44 (3).

Perry, R., Murphy, M., Haider, S., & Harwood, B. (2015). One Problem Became Another”: Disclosure of Rape-Related Pregnancy in the Abortion Care Setting . Womens health issues , 25 (5), 470-475.

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Yuan, N., Koss, M., & Stone, M. (2011). The Psychological Consequences of Sexual Trauma. Retrieved from National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: