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Trauma. Treatment. Triumph

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Trauma and Rape

Trauma is a word often used to describe anything really bad or scary that happens to someone that leaves lasting emotional wounds that are not easily shaken. Not every bad or scary experience is considered traumatic. There are many kinds of traumatic experiences such as from natural disasters, war zones, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, domestic violence, witnessing violence death or injury, or even medical traumas. Trauma happens to men and women, people of all ages, races, religions, nationalities, and social classes. Most people recover from trauma on their own over time, though some find it helpful to talk to someone along the way, while a smaller percentage of people will find that their symptoms have progressed to what therapists label Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/fslist-ptsd-overview.asp. This condition is marked by feelings of acute fear and anxiety, avoidance of things that remind someone of the trauma, and intrusive, unwanted, and often distressing thoughts about the trauma. PTSD is treatable for most people, even people who have struggled with it for years once they have had the appropriate treatment. There is hope. You are not alone.

Woman in Pain

Sexual Trauma can is broadly seen as any unwanted, forced, abusive sexual act, or a sexual act occurring when the victim lacks the ability to give consent such as when they are a minor, disabled, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, sleeping, or unconscious. There does not have to be penetration or pain for an experience to be traumatic. Many perpetrators will try to do things to their victims to make the sexual act less painful and more sexually gratifying so they can blame the victim and say they wanted it or trick themselves into thinking that they are not perpetrators despite them doing this act to a child or the disabled or someone who has already said NO or tried leave. Don't be fooled, the body has physiological reactions, that respond reflexively when touched. This is how the body was made. It is natural to respond to certain types of touch in certain ways, just like when the doctors tests your reflexes, you cannot control that response. It does not mean it is something that you liked or wanted. Perpetrators, however, like to use this against their victims to justify their horrifying behavior. There are several types of sexual trauma categories, some are overlapping and have similar name, these include: Child Sexual Abuse, Sexual Assault, Date Rape, Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault, Rape, Molestation, Incest, Sexual Harassment, Sex Trafficking, and revenge porn. Many sexual abuse experiences overlap with domestic violence or relationship abuse. For law enforcement data collection purposes, The FBI defines rape as: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Therapy Office

Probably one of the most tragic things I see as a therapist are the individuals coming in for therapy whose symptoms were quite obviously suggestive of trauma, but no one had really noticed. Many times teens were labeled "bad" kids or "attention seekers," or even worse their cries of pain seemed invisible to the outside world. Sadly, most sexual abuse survivors tried to tell someone about their abuse early-on, but often their words were ignored, minimized, or turned against them. If someone tells you they have been sexually abused, BELIEVE THEM, there is very little to gain, and often much to risk by disclosing sexual abuse. Research by the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that only 2% of alleged rapes are ever estimated to be false, which is the same percentage of false reports as every other type of crime. This means that despite people accusing sexual abuse victims of lying, they aren't any more likely to lie about it than someone is who lies about their home being robbed. Unfortunately, there is no absolute way to confirm if someone has been sexually abused/assaulted without catching the criminal in the act or getting the criminals DNA, which does not happen nearly as often or as easily as tv or movies depict. Moreover, a majority of sexual assault cases are not matters of identifying the alleged perpetrators (in which DNA identification would carry more meaning), but rather disputes over whether the incident was consensual. However, as a concerned parent, partner, friend, or family member.

Flames
Warning...Watch out

Warning signs to look out for may include:

 

· Depression

· Withdrawing socially

· Isolation

· Tearfulness

· Suicidal threats or attempts

· Impulsive acting out behaviors (getting into fights, or risky sexual behavior)

· Substance abuse (especially at a young age)

· Self-injury (cutting, scratching, burning, head banging, or hitting oneself)

· Eating disorder behaviors

· Excessive bathing or showering

· Regressive behaviors (acting like they did at early ages in child development such as bed-wetting, use of baby talk, or wanting to sleep with the light on, or not wanting to sleep alone)

· Changes in school or work performance (A student suddenly becomes C student; A good worker suddenly has difficulty making deadlines; A college student suddenly starts falling asleep in class or seems distant and distracted and stops turning in homework or going to class)

 

PTSD related symptoms include:

· Difficulty concentrating

· Poor sleep

· Change in appetite

· Memories missing from the abuse incident

· Changes in the way they see the world/others/themselves in distorted or unhealthy ways

· Nightmares

· Flashbacks

· Seeming emotionally shut down, numb, or like a zombie

· Anxiety/panic attacks

· Irritability/ anger

 

Other things I commonly see with survivors of sexual violence include:

· shame

· guilt

· self-blame

· problems with trust

· problems with relationships

· sexual or intimacy concerns or avoidance

· Dissociation or spacing out/checking out, disconnecting from the present reality