Homepage|Research|Crisis Information|Hotlines


Descriptive terms for types of rape and sexual assault

reconstructing rape descriptions


The Pain of rape is often invisible.

The purpose of this page is to help build up the vocabulary of sexual trauma in order to help victims communicate better.

See also: Vocabulary of trauma

Part of the politically correct movement was to create a vocabulary so that people could discuss issues around discrimination more easily. This discussion by and large left rape survivors out of the fold. It is still considered a gray area of which the public knows little. The purpose of an agreed on vocabulary is to make sure that everyone knows what you mean when you use a certain word. This makes sure everyone is on the same page. It is very useful to some survivors in the sense that giving a name to pain can be empowering. It can also help survivors communicate with providers if both have the common language to understand concepts like self injury and self blame. Otherwise nothing will be communicated and no one will be helped. If there is not a word for it- how can you say it?


Studies have found that people who dissociate also have communication disorders. "Grounding techniques and specific language interventions can assist ... in acquiring the vocabulary needed for communicating both their daily experiences and traumatic histories."(Yehuda, 2005) Part of this is due to the fact that PTSD shuts off communication with the part of the brain that controls/operates language and logic functions.


The pain of rape is invisible. It's not the physical scars or stitches that need to heal. Rape actually damages the brain when the victim develops PTSD from the trauma and the stigma. This is what needs to heal. Therefore the description of the rape-type needs to include it's psychological impact rather than solely the physical interaction.

"Though a rape victim may not sustain substantial physical tissue damage, rapists may inflict significant psychological trauma by asserting uninvited domination, control, and power over the unwilling other" (Brownsmiller, 1975). This is called victim impact.

"Talking about non-violent rape is sort of like talking about a poisoning."I am not violent.I only poisoned her.It is not like I shot her or beat her"To which I reply"Umm she is DEAD that is as violent as it gets.It doesn't matter if you used poison or a gun.You took her life from her"" (Allen Bradbury)

An example of the type of non-physical suffering experienced:

"Ream, of course, was anything but fine. No court of law could lock away her pain and anger as she worked to rebuild her life. For the next two years, "I had a lot of trouble sleeping," she says. "I was very depressed." And scared. "You have nightmares, and you're afraid if someone walks up behind you, even if it's someone you know," she says. Even some distant friends and family couldn't grasp the depth of her trauma. "I was living with three girlfriends at the time, and I'd wake up two or three nights a week screaming," she says. "One of my roommates' friends-a woman-said, 'This happened six months ago; shouldn't she be over this by now?...In 2003 she launched the Voices and Faces Project'"" (Comander, 2006).

In reconstructing the description of rape the victim's perspective is essential. There is a dichotomy between how rape survivors think about rape and how spectators think of it. A group discussion within the survivor community produced the following format for communicating a description of the victim's experience:

1) Category of physical contact/

2) Type of rapist (percieved intent of rapist) /

3) Effects of rape: psychological and-or physical results and aftermath (victim impact)

The description would follow this format:



1/Types of rape (category of physical contact):

[This category mostly appeals to non-survivors. Survivors know that the psychological pain is pretty much the same regardless of what level of violence was used. If someone beat you up in a bar that might be extremely violent-but not give you PTSD. If someone you thought cared about you violated you personally that probably would cause you alot of greif.]

  • Stranger rape
    -Blitz Sexual Assault
    -Contact Sexual Assault
    -Home Invasion Sexual Assault
  • Statutory rape
  • Child sexual abuse and incest
  • Acquaintance or "date" rape
  • Spousal rape or partner rape
  • Gang rape
  • Drug facilitated rape
  • Communicative or verbal / Virtual reality rape and abuse (such as A Rape in Cyber Space- graphic)
  • Forcible touching - intentionally and for no legitimate purpose forcibly touch the sexual or other intimate parts of another for the purpose of degrading or abusing their victim or gratifying the actor's sexual desire.
  • Nonconsensual "noncontact - such as voyeurism is also considered sexual violence." (Esposito, 2006)
  • Sexual coercion - is defined as any situation in which one person uses verbal or physical means (including the administration of drugs or alcohol, with or without the other person's consent) to obtain sexual activity against consent. ( Adams-Curtis & Forbes, 2004)
  • Non-consensual tribadism or frottage.
  • Non-consensual cunnilingus.


  • Types of abuse : Psychological abuse, Humiliation / Intimidation, Mobbing / Bullying, Hate speech / Manipulation, Stalking / Relational aggression, parental alienation, Psychological torture, Psychiatric torture, Mind control / Shunning, Coercive persuasion

    • Mobbing - "This phenomenon has been referred to as "mobbing", "ganging up on someone", "bullying" or "psychological terror". In this type of conflict, the victim is subjected to a systematic, stigmatizing process and encroachment of his or her civil rights." (The Mobbing Encyclopaedia)
    • Hate speech - See hate crimes.
    • Secondary victimization/wounding - see sv page.

2/Type of rapist - victim's perception of the intent of the rapist/motive - These are based on rapist's profiles: power-assertive rapist, power-reassurance rapist, anger-retaliatory rapist, anger-excitation rapist. (Groth)

[This category is important to include because most rapes are not about lust or sex. They are about power, control and at times violence. While not relevent to a court of law- percieved intent is important for the victim to be able to voice their feelings about what type of interaction the sexual assault was.]


  • Intent to humiliate
  • degrade
  • disempower
  • intent to punish (power, hate crime)
  • intent to control (power)
  • intent for sexual gratification
  • intent to inflict bodily harm
  • intent to terrorize
  • sexual exploitation
  • shame
  • to show ownership of the victim
  • all of the above

3/ Victim impact / Effects of the rape - To most victims the effects of the rape are the most important thing of all. It addresses the changes in self image, thinking, functioning and major life changes suffered as a direct result of the rape. This is something the victim often has to deal with for their entire life. It's not usually temporary.

"Victim impact statements usually describe the harm the offense has had on the victim, including descriptions of the financial, physical, psychological or emotional impact, harm to familial relationships, descriptions of any medical treatments or psychological services required by the victim or the victim's family as a result of the victimization, and the need for any restitution. "

Rape has certain consistent effects which many survivors suffer regardless of the type of interaction with the perpetrator. This also includes somatic (body) symptoms "Sexual assault was also a significant statistical predictor of having multiple sick days in the prior 6 months and of being a high utilizer of primary care visits in the prior 6 months. These data confirm a strong association between sexual trauma exposure and somatic symptoms, illness attitudes and healthcare utilization in women." ( Stein et. al., 2004)

a/ Psychological brain changes---Invisible damage / psychological damage -

PTSD brain altering damage

Undeserved shame or guilt as part of self blame

PSYCHIC trauma


b/ Pain and suffering ---Long term life-altering changes/effects of rape - loss of ability to work, having to drop out of school, ostracism due to the stigma of rape such as secondary victimization (reactions of others).

c/ Physical--- Scars or injuries.

d/ Advocates also list the four injuries all crime victims suffer: physical, financial, social and emotional.

About social injuries or secondary victimization:

"Social Injury
In the earlier section on The Four Injuries, the social injury was described. If a victim is treated with dignity, compassion and respect, she may have less difficulty dealing with these immediate and long-term crisis reactions. If she is treated poorly, these reactions may be made worse. When such reactions are worsened, the actions of others are called the "social injury." Some examples of social injuries are as follows:

* The law enforcement officer or a family member may not believe the victim when she tries to report a crime. For a crime victim with a disability, in particular, the social injury may occur when the victim realizes that other people may not believe her simply because of her disability.
* The story about the crime may be reported in the newspaper, on the television or radio, or may be a source of "gossip" in the community. This can embarrass the victim, especially if the facts are reported incorrectly, if personal information about the victim is given, or if the victim is made to appear foolish.
* Family, friends or even a clergy member may not be helpful or understanding. They may "blame" the victim (not always on purpose) for what happened or they may not want the victim to talk about it because it could cause the family shame.
* Doctors or nurses may not always identify physical injuries as being crime-related.
* Other sources of social injury include mental health professionals, social service workers, victim service workers, schools or educators, victim compensation systems, disability program workers, and employers."


Example sentence:

Type of rape/Type of rapist or percieved intent of rapist/Effects of rape: psychological or the four injuries

It might sound like this:

Drug facilitated fraternity gang rape with perceived intent to humiliate, control and degrade. The effects being life long PTSD, a life threatening eating disorder, temporary self injury and permanent OCD as well as social injuries of stigma of shame.


Books on defining rape

Defining Rape by Bourque, Linda Brookover

Find this in a library

"Defining Rape consists of four sections. The first illustrates the variability of rape definitions used in court cases and by professionals, victims, perpetrators, and laypeople. The second reviews in detail existing research on women victims and male assailants, social-psychological findings based on attribution theory, changing legal definitions of the crime of rape, and studies of community attitudes toward rape. The third section reports the design, findings, and conclusions of the Los Angeles County survey. In the final section survey results are compared with previous research, showing the implications for theory and practice."


Bibliographies on defining rape

Research resources on defining rape





Yehuda, Na'ama (2005). The Language of Dissociation. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, Vol 6(1), pp. 9-29.

Jerome, Richard; Comander, Lauren (2006). FACES OF RAPE. People, 3/20/2006, Vol. 65 Issue 11, p199-202, 3p.

Esposito, Noreen (2006). Women with a History of Sexual Assault. American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 106 Issue 3, p69-73, 4p

Stein, Murray B.; Lang, Ariel J.; Laffaye, Charlene; Satz, Leslie E.; Lenox, Rebecca J.; Dresselhaus, Timothy R. (2004). Relationship of sexual assault history to somatic symptoms and health anxiety in women. General Hospital Psychiatry, May2004, Vol. 26 Issue 3, p178

Adams-Curtis, Leah E.; Forbes, Gordon B. (2004). COLLEGE WOMEN'S EXPERIENCES OF SEXUAL COERCION. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, Vol. 5 Issue 2, p91-122



Please select a topic from the menu



Cite this resource

Clear your computer history

Last updated 12/23/06 About.Contact

Find Journal Articles on this subject

Created by MEM

Home|Finding books at the library|Encyclopedias and Dictionaries|Biographies|Books on healing|Statistics|Websites |Films|Journals and articles|Bibliographies|Online Libraries|Victim blame|Theories|Privacy|Grants|Crisis hotlines|Crisis Information |Rape crisis sites|Rape crisis centers|Help rape victims|Message boards|Suicide hotlines|Louisiana|N.C. rape crisis| Victim Assistance|Effects of rape|Health|Therapy|Medical|Lesbian sexual assault|Feminist|Petitions|War and rape|Partners|Male survivors|Created by|More Information|Blog|Community thank you rainn



Search this site

hosted by ibiblio

The author is not responsible for any contents linked or referred to from his or her pages - unless s/he has full knowledge of illegal contents and would be able to prevent the visitors of his site from viewing those pages. If any damage occurs by the use of information presented there, only the author of the respective pages might be liable, not the one who has linked to these pages. Furthermore the author is not liable for any postings or messages published by users of discussion boards, guestbooks or mailinglists provided on his or her page. The author is not a psychiatrist or physician / medical doctor or legal attorney of any sort. This website is not intended to replace medical, psychiatric or legal care. Please seek professional attention as needed.The Information provided is not intended to replace obtaining medical evaluations and health care advice from qualified health care providers. This site's owners are providing Information for reference only, and do not intend said Information to be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical conditions, or for any other purposes.The owner/author of this site MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, WITH RESPECT TO THE ACCURACY OR COMPLETENESS OF SAID INFORMATION, OR THE FITNESS OF THE INFORMATION TO BE USED FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, AND SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, LOSS, EXPENSE, OR DAMAGE OF ANY KIND TO USER, OR TO ANY THIRD PARTY, RELATED TO THE USE OF SAID INFORMATION. Persons accessing any Information of the rape crisis information web site, directly or indirectly, assume full responsibility for the use of the Information and understand and agree that the author of rape crisis information is not responsible or liable for any claim, loss, or damage arising from the use of said Information.

Rape Crisis Information Pathfinder, UNC Chapel Hill, N.C., http://www.ibiblio.org/rcip/