Healing process after rape never ends

CNN News Wire | 3/19/2013, 9:05 a.m.

When the judge's gavel fell, the future had been decided for the two teenagers convicted of rape in Steubenville, Ohio.

Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, will spend at least a year in a juvenile correctional facility, although authorities could decide to keep them in custody until they turn 21. Both must undergo treatment and will have to register as sex offenders.

For the 16-year-old victim, the next steps aren't so clear.

She was raped last summer at a party; witnesses posted images of the assault on social media. The case has garnered national attention and sparked a conversation about rape in America.

"My family and I are hopeful that we can put this horrible ordeal behind us," the victim's mother said Monday. "We need and deserve to focus on our daughter's future."

Every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Every survivor responds differently to rape, says Jennifer Marsh, vice president of victim services for RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual-violence organization. Emotions run the gamut from fear to anger to guilt.

"It's such a violent and personal crime," Marsh said. "It's not somebody just breaking into your house. It's somebody assaulting the most private part of you. Having that be public, especially as a minor, can be traumatic."

Victims of sexual assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression and six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to RAINN. Some try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Many have trouble with intimacy and forming trusting relationships.

One of the most common issues survivors face is blaming themselves for the assault, Marsh says. A lot of that has to do with our culture: Marsh says she sees rape cases like the one in Steubenville every day that aren't taken seriously.

"A lot of times, it gets chalked up to, 'Oh, kids will drink, and things will happen,' " she said. "But ... sexual assault is sexual assault. And it doesn't matter if the victim was drinking or using substances. The fact is that something was done to her that she didn't want to be done. And I think that's the conversation we really need to talk about."

The victim in the Steubenville case has endured hostility from the attackers' supporters. Although mainstream media have kept her name private, it's obvious she's well-known in the small Ohio community.

Defense attorneys questioned the victim's character on the stand, asking witnesses about her alcohol consumption that night and what she told them the next morning regarding the assault. They also attempted to bring the victim's past into the trial, but the judge did not allow the line of questioning.

The character attacks weren't over after the verdict was read. Shortly after the trial concluded, two teenage girls were accused of making threats against the victim on Twitter, according to Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla. One of the girls was charged Tuesday with one misdemeanor count of aggravated menacing for threatening the victim's life.