Risk Factors for PTSD and Depression in Female Survivors of Rape

Rape is a traumatic event that tends to leave an emotional scar on the victim. In some cases it can lead to depression and sometimes even cause Post traumatic stress disorder. (PTSD). The question that the research paper “Risk factors for PTSD and depression in female survivors of rape.” by Nolwandle Mgoqi-Mbalo, Muyu Zhang,Sam Ntuli asked was whether there are any socio-demographic factors that make the development of PTSD and depression more likely. The research showed that socio demographic factors such as marital and employment status do contribute to the development of symptoms of depression and PTSD after rape.

1.Could you touch a bit on what the research is for our audience who may be learning about it for the first time?

The research is mainly aimed at understanding the association between socio-demographic variables (such as marital status, employment status, education levels and geographical location) and development of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in a population of female survivors of rape from three of the largest provinces in South Africa, namely Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. Furthermore, the study assessed the impact of the characteristics of rape e.g. the presence and extent of use of force and weapon during the assault; as well as sought to investigate the role of social support in predicting depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in this population group.

2.What got you interested in this research?

South Africa has over the years reported a higher incident of rape and quite a focus has been on understanding the perpetrators of these crimes and to an extent also understanding the victims. However, very few studies have been done (within the South African context) on understanding the various factors that place survivors of rape at risk for development of PTSD and depression, let alone how victims of rape cope in the aftermath of sexual assault. My interest to the topic has mainly been on drawing attention to the area of research that has not received the most focus given the prevalence of rape in South Africa.

3.In what cases, do you think the rape victim is more likely to develop PTSD or depression?

There’s varying views based on research of risk factors to developing PTSD and depression post-rape. In the present study, the socio-demographic factors such as marital status, unemployment and use of weapon during the rape assault significantly increased the symptoms of depression and PTSD post rape. Thus providing support to previous findings on the predictive role of these factors in the development of the PTSD and depression. In particular, poverty as a result of unemployment, lower levels of education may exacerbate the feelings of depression amongst survivors of rape. In addition, cases relating to survivors of rape reporting either previous rape experience and or exposure to violence may also result into development of PTSD and depression.

4.In your article you mention that not all support provides a buffer against depression, so what kind of support would provide that buffer?

Indeed, in the present study we investigated perceptions on specific elements of social support relating to Emotional Support, Informative Support and Social Companionship or Instrumental support provided to survivors of rape post-victimization. In the present study, social support was not statistically associated with PTSD. Interestingly, survivors of rape reporting to have received social support were found to have increased levels of depression. The findings in this study clearly contrast the well posited association between social support and lower risk of PTSD and development of symptoms of depression. It is important to note that whilst these findings may be contrary to previous findings, they do however point to a need for further exploration of social support qualitatively. Whilst this study did not specifically provide indication to the elements of social support that may act as buffers to development of PTSD and depression; further studies should seek to provide a much clearer association between social support and psychological response to rape victimization. I would further suggest for a qualitative analysis of survivors’ interpretation and meaning of what constitutes social support and how this relates to development of depression and PTSD post-rape victimization.

From a personal view, am still of the opinion that having others around providing emotional support, assisting with daily activities and being there through companionship are critical elements in enabling for reducing the risk of stress and depression following victimization. Social support in the form of being in a company of others who have experienced rape victimization may also aid in reducing development of depression and PTSD.

5.Do you think with the research that you did that anything could be done to prevent rape victims from developing PTSD or depression?

Certainly, this study adds into the vast literature on building knowledge on the risk factors to development of PTSD and depression post rape victimization especially in the South African context. The research highlights key socio-economic factors that heighten the risk to development of PTSD or depression post rape. To an extent, the findings do motivate for an inclusive approach in treatment of rape survivors who present symptoms of depression and PTSD. Effectively, there has to be a closer collaboration between social workers and clinical psychologist in addressing the psychological sequel of rape.

6.Where are studies at the moment and where do you anticipate findings going in the next year or so?

Given that depression is a common reaction following sexual assault, there has been a continued focus on broadening our understanding on rape related psychological responses. In particular, for South Africa with a high incidence of sexual assault cases, there has been a number of studies focused on understanding the psychological response to rape victimization. This will continue into the near future as we try to find ways to deal with rape related trauma.

7.What were some of the challenges you faced during your research?

First let me highlight the fact that this was a very important project for me as it allowed me to tackle one of the most sensitive issues that has plagued our nation. One of the main challenges in conducting this research was the fact that the study participants were across three provinces in South Africa which effectively meant taking time to travel across the areas for much longer periods to conduct the interviews. Obtaining ethical clearances from the various bodies across the three provinces proved to be a challenge as each had different requirements and timelines which ultimately impacted on data collection processes. On the latter, as much as this was a challenge it also demonstrated the commitment of the various institutions and provinces on moral responsibility to respect and protect the rights and dignity of research participants. This was welcomed especially given the seriousness of rape.

8.Do you have additional resources or further readings for those who want to learn more about the topic?

Indeed, there’s quite a few scholarly work available on the subject of rape and risk factors to PTSD and Depression and in particular with reference to the South African context. The work done by scholars such as Prof Gail Wyatt, Prof Rachel Jewkes from the South African Medical Research Council would be helpful in providing more relevant context and understanding.

The results of this paper can help us with treatment of rape victims. It shows that the treatment should also focus on an in-depth understanding of the socio-demographic factors and characteristics of the rape to better help the individual.

If you have any further questions about the research paper, you can contact Dr. Nolwandle Mgoqi-Mbalo at nmbalo9@gmail.com

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