Relationships as Resilience and Posttraumatic Growth Factors for War-Time Survivors with Interpretations of Rape as Sexual Taboo

Healing Embrace

Buuma Maisha

Relationships with oneself and others present enormous challenges for survivors of rape. The social and personal values guiding these relationships are challenged, making survivors view themselves as undeserving of happy relationships (Maisha, Malette & Demasure, 2017; Dossa, Hatem, Zunzunegui & Fraser, 2014; Kelly el al., 2012). In fact, for survivors in the context of sexual taboos, the experience of rape triggers intrapersonal and interpersonal conflicts with three fundamental relationships: motherhood, conjugality and family (Maisha, Malette & Bellehumeur, 2019). The three types of relationship stand out as fundamental values for the participants in our research. They are fundamental to the participants’ identity as valuable members of their community.

The ability to relate and belong is crucial for human beings; a notion Saint-Arnaud has referred to as religiosity (Maisha et al., 2019; Saint-Arnaud, 2005). The author refers to the notion of “religiosity” of the person as fundamental identity based on the natural need of every person to relate with others or with the Divine. Thus, every person needs to be able to create and maintain healthy relationships. However, the need to belong is met with specific challenges when it comes to survivors of rape in the context where the tragedy is seen as a transgression of sexual taboos and therefore a source of defilement (Lévy-Bruhl, 1963; Douglas, 1967, 2001). In such context, there is a general belief that survivors are defiled and have contracted a contagious condition of misfortune; making them a risk to self and other and seriously affecting their ability to form and maintain relationships. This chapter presents an emerging theory from a qualitative, grounded theory based research programme that has explored challenges for effective therapeutic care of survivors in a cultural context where rape is interpreted as sexual taboo, hence a source of defilement and danger for self and other; and based on about 10 years of clinical work on trauma from sexual violence. The condition of defilement distorts survivors’ social identity. It imposes social and relational isolation on them.

The emerging theory builds on a deeper understanding of the impact of the distorted identity on survivors’ ability to create and maintain relationships; it provides a conceptual framework on which relationship-centred therapeutic assessment and interventions can rely. Based on a brief review of the current literature, it is suggested that the emerging theory will contribute to building resilience and achieving posttraumatic growth for rape survivors.

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