The Trauma of Rape

The Trauma of Rape

Birth can reawaken the trauma of rape. Eight out of ten women who have been raped experience complications during their first birth.

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The study examines the relationship between women who have been raped as an adult - 16 years or older - and their first birth.

The researchers were surprised to find that as many as 80 percent of the women had to have medical assistance during the delivery.

The study shows that women who have been raped stop having strong contractions towards the end of the delivery process.

“Active intervention, such as a pitocin drip, does not seem to help; in fact, it seems to make things worse,” said Lotta Halvorsen and Hilde Nerum, Ph.D. candidates at UiT.

It appears that common medical techniques and procedures that are used during childbirth may reawaken the trauma of rape.

The trauma may be reactivated when the woman is on her back and is undressed. She is surrounded by strangers who are "having their way" with her body.

Women who have not been raped will have a completely different experience of the assistance they receive during childbirth.

Those who have been abused are more vulnerable. "Their experiences have been suppressed, but come forward during the birth," says Halvorsen.

Halvorsen and Nerum are both midwives at the University Hospital of Northern Norway (UNN). They emphasize that the babies that were born to the women in the study were not conceived as a result of the rape.

The study involved 50 women who all had been raped as adults. All were first-time mothers. In addition, the researchers recruited a control group of 150 women who were also giving birth for the first time.

The two researchers believe that doctors and midwives who care for pregnant women should have a greater focus on sexual abuse and rape. The issue is often shrouded in silence and shame, even though rape is one of the most violent and traumatizing types of abuse a woman may be subjected to.

Before the results of the study were known, neither women nor birth attendants would have thought that a previous rape could have negative consequences for delivery.

The 50 rape victims who were in the study have all been in contact with a mental health team at the UNN maternity clinic.

Halvorsen and Nerum have worked with the health team for ten years, and have heard women's stories over the years. The researchers believe that midwives and obstetricians must understand that a woman's life story also has an impact on how the birth proceeds.

An experience of rape seems to be a hidden reason for the different challenges that can arise during labor, both for the woman giving birth and for midwives.

Halvorsen says it is important that the midwife knows the woman's history, and it is especially important that these women are given the time and space they need to give birth without interference.

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