I have worked with sexual abuse and rape survivors throughout my nearly 20 year career as a psychotherapist. I am currently working with a number of survivors who are being triggered by the latest Catholic church abuse revelations and the vitriol public fury fest over the allegations being leveled against the current Supreme Court nominee. It is getting harder and harder for survivors to stay level, to care for ourselves, and to self regulate to regain and/or keep control over our body responses.
The President’s tweet today was just one too many straws for me to ignore the camel’s back as it is breaking. His statement – that if the assault on Dr. Blasey Ford when she was 15 years old had been “so bad” that either she or her parents would have made a police report – is so resoundingly ignorant that survivors around the world are finding our teeth and claws protruding.
Of the many survivors I have worked with, very few ever reported their experiences to legal authorities. Of those who did, many were retraumatized by the reporting process, and several were implicitly or explicitly told they were at fault by various authority figures including police, emergency medical professionals, clergy and parents. These authorities all collude with the voices in the victim’s own heads that demanded they could have done something to stop it, or that they did something to justify being assaulted or raped.
Let me be abundantly clear: Nothing justifies rape or sexual assault. Nothing.
As a community, we need to understand that rape and sexual assault are very rarely these nearly defined and clear situations. Most rapes are not committed by strangers in dark alleys. Most perpetrators are known to their victims and have familial, occupational or social ties to their prey.
This means that there is very likely going to be ongoing contact with the perpetrators. The perpetrators are very often in positions of either referential or actual power over their victims. Speaking out can easily cost a victim a job, a faith community, enduring connection to family members, an academic career and so forth.
It is just not simple, even for adult victims. Adult victims are often well aware that pressing charges will boil down to “s/he/they said – s/he/ they said.” Pursuing justice will force a victim to continue to deal with that trauma over and over again in an unmitigated way long before there has been any opportunity to heal. Victims are already in incredible turmoil. Why would they intentionally make it worse, especially knowing that they are very unlikely to actually get any justice?
For child victims, the head tangle is much more confusing. People who are sexually abused before they reach sexual maturity are especially vulnerable to believing that this is just their lot in life and that they deserve no better. Children are sincerely powerless over most elements of their lives. Children whose physical boundaries are violated learn that they do not even have authority over their own bodies.
People in this position very often learn to adapt, to comply and to accept as a means of survival. In that tender time of life, this emotional defense works to protect the psyche on one level. Not only do they not report, they learn to accept the unacceptable and believe lies about their worth that can severely impair their ability to take hold of their lives in a positive way.
One common misconception that frequently confounds the public discourse is that what is legally supportable and what is psychologically actual are one in the same.
They most certainly are not.
Many of the victims I work with demonstrate clear and obvious symptoms of trauma. The more overt symptoms often include sleep disturbance, hypervigilance, depression, anxiety, re-experiencing, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, hyper-sexuality or contrarily loss of libido, extreme risk-taking or contrarily impeding risk-aversion. Less obvious symptoms can include low self-esteem, poor relationship choices, fears of success, emotional lability that gets misattributed to personality or hormones, hopelessness and an external locus of control, just to mention a few. Each of these people have experienced a significantly disturbing and life altering intrusion through their bodies. Very few, if any, could prove their cases robustly in court.
The legal system cannot adequately determine what is traumatic, and that is not its job.
As compassionate human beings who want a better and actually safer society for all, we must understand this distinction and stop invalidating trauma survivors who cannot or chose not to pursue legal justice in their course of healing.
If you or a loved one are struggling with these issues, I am here to help. Please click here: https://tiffanysankofa.com/contact/ Let’s talk together about what your positive path forward might look like.