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'90S FAMILY

A Shattered Peace

Rape's most obvious victim is the woman. But like no other crime, it reaches beyond her and often devastates her family, causing the breakdown of relationships.

June 01, 1997|MAYRAV SAAR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The nightmare began Dec. 14, 1994, when four men broke into Jim and Sylvia Hollingsworth's Pasadena home in the middle of the night.

They raped Sylvia, tied up Jim and pistol-whipped him, and brandished a revolver at the Hollingsworths' 7-year-old daughter. They stole change from the child's piggy bank and took Sylvia's wedding ring. They threatened retaliation if police were notified.

And during the hour that the men taunted and terrorized their victims, they may have destroyed a family.

Feeling alternately emasculated, guilty and angry, Jim said the rape was emotionally devastating. The couple has been on and off antidepressants. They had to sell their home abruptly and at a loss because their now-9-year-old daughter couldn't bear to return to the crime scene. And Jim, who dressed in Armani suits every morning for work as an executive for an electronics company, has not held a steady job since his employer closed his branch six months after the attack.

Sylvia said the two have stayed in the marriage for their daughter's sake. They're cordial, she said, but not the same.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 8, 1997 Home Edition Life & Style Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Impact of Rape--In a story on rape's effect on families in the June 1 Life & Style, the Miller family's finances were incorrectly portrayed. Rob Miller's past earnings supported the family while he and his wife, Lyn, were out of work.

They are learning what few activist groups and rape counselors ever tell victims: Like no other crime, rape not only brutalizes the victim, it often destroys her family.

Of all the studies that focus on rape, few concentrate on the crime's effect on the victims' families and significant others. But a book that is scheduled for completion this summer by researchers in Virginia and Santa Cruz indicates that as many as half of all relationships fail after the woman has been raped.

"It's a hidden issue," said Linda BloomBecker, a rape survivor who began research for her book in progress, "Shared Trauma: Long-Term Effects on Survivors and Their Mates," in 1986. "It's not getting enough attention."

According to the research, a mate's response to the rape has a direct impact on the couple's survival.

But few rape treatment centers have the funding to offer counseling for a victim's family and, without someone to talk to, men often don't know how to respond, said Jay BloomBecker, Linda's husband and a Santa Cruz attorney; he began informally counseling victims' mates after Linda began her research.

"The mate's dilemma is his feeling of powerlessness. He can't undo what's happened," he said. "Men need to talk about it to other men."

That advice is easier said than followed.

Like many husbands, Jim Hollingsworth's social circle consists mostly of his wife's friends, and he has had few people to turn to for his own needs.

"Even though I have the support of my family, they're at a distance," he said.

On the day one of his wife's attackers was convicted, Jim stood amid a group of Sylvia's friends outside the Pasadena courthouse, watching them cry and laugh and hug his wife.

"I'm a private person who keeps things inside," Jim said. "I'm just putting one foot in front of the other and trying to get through it. It's about all you can do."

The lack of a strong support system for men only exacerbates a couple's problem: If a mate is expected to sympathize at a time when he is also traumatized, more stress will be added to the relationship, said Claire N. Kaplan, sexual assault educational coordinator at the University of Virginia and co-author of "Shared Trauma" with BloomBecker.

Of the nine couples BloomBecker initially interviewed, only four were still together, a ratio in keeping with a 1978 study published in the book "Rape: Helping the Victim" (Medical Economics Co., Book Division, 1978), which concluded that 50% to 80% of women lose their male partners following an attack.

Though that statistic is used by many researchers, counselors at the Santa Monica / UCLA Medical Center Rape Treatment Center--one of the few local facilities to offer rape therapy for couples--dismiss it as unfounded and misleading. They agree that rape puts the couple under tremendous stress, but many counselors said the problems posed are not insurmountable.

"What happens to a relationship depends upon what the relationship was like before the rape," said Gail Abarbanel, director of the treatment center. "Good relationships can and do survive."

Experts said the key to keeping a post-rape relationship together is the same prescription family therapists give for most marital troubles: communication.

It sounds obvious, but men and women have different approaches to facing trauma and are often "out of sync" with each other's healing processes, said Dr. Alan McEvoy, author of "If She Is Raped" (Learning Publications Inc., 1984).

"Men's natural tendency to take charge of a situation poses a problem," McEvoy said. "Anger and the feeling of wanting to seek revenge is normal, but . . . it shifts the attention away from her needs. And it tends to cut off communication."

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