Anxiety & Trauma of Sexual Assault, 1 tragedy, 2 Lives ruined, 6 Therapies
January 2015 a young man committed sexual assault on a young woman. The man was convicted. Now both face life-long recovery from its consequences. She must seek treatment and support for her healing. He must live with 3 counts of felony conviction and life-long entry on sex offender registry.
One night in January 2015, two Stanford University graduate students biking across campus spotted a freshman thrusting his body on top of an unconscious, half-naked woman behind a dumpster. March, 2016, a California jury found the former student guilty of three counts of sexual assault (Katie J.M. Baker, BuzzFeed News Reporter, posted on Jun. 3, 2016, at 4:17 p.m.)
Here are excerpts of her tragic story:
Your Honor, if it is all right, for the majority of this statement I would like to address the defendant directly.
You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.
On January 17th, 2015, it was a quiet Saturday night at home. I decided, there’s a dumb party ten minutes from my house, I would go
The next thing I remember I was on a gurney in a hallway. I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbow.
I had scratches and bandages on my skin, my vagina was sore and had become a strange, dark color from all the prodding, my underwear was missing, and I felt too empty to continue to speak.
I tried to push it out of my mind, but it was so heavy I didn’t talk, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t interact with anyone. After work, I would drive to a secluded place to scream. I didn’t interact with anyone, and I became isolated from the ones I loved most.
I thought there’s no way this is going to trial; there were witnesses, there was dirt in my body, he ran but was caught. He’s going to settle, formally apologize, and we will both move on. Instead, I was told he hired a powerful attorney, expert witnesses, private investigators who were going to try and find details about my personal life to use against me,
I had to fight for an entire year to make it clear that there was something wrong with this situation.
Nobody wins. We have all been devastated, we have all been trying to find some meaning in all of this suffering. Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice,
I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt, my life was put on hold for over a year, waiting to figure out if I was worth something.
My independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle I had been enjoying became distorted beyond recognition. I became closed off, angry, self-deprecating, tired, irritable, empty. The isolation at times was unbearable. You cannot give me back the life I had before that night either. While you worry about your shattered reputation, I refrigerated spoons every night so when I woke up, and my eyes were puffy from crying, I would hold the spoons to my eyes to lessen the swelling so that I could see. I can’t sleep alone at night without having a light on, like a five year old, because I have nightmares of being touched where I cannot wake up, I did this thing where I waited until the sun came up and I felt safe enough to sleep. For three months, I went to bed at six o’clock in the morning.
And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought every day for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you.
Secondly, here are parts of his story: (A letter from his father)
I am writing this letter to tell you about my son and the person that I know he
- First of all, let me say that he is absolutely devastated by the events of
January 17th and 18th 2015. He would do anything to turn back the hands of time and
have that night to do over again.
He is truly sorry for what occurred that night and for all
the pain and suffering that it has caused for all of those involved and impacted by
that night. He has expressed true remorse for his actions on that night.
As it stands now, his life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan
17th and 18th. He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going
personality and welcoming smile. His every waking minute is consumed with worry,
anxiety, fear, and depression. You can see this in his face, the way he walks, his
weakened voice, his lack of appetite.
The fact that he now has to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life
forever alters where he can live, visit, work, and how he will be able to interact with
people and organizations.
How can she heal?
- Group Therapy
Group therapy is more effective at reducing PTSD, anxiety, and depression than individual therapy for both war veterans and rape survivors.3
- Cognitive Processing Therapy
Victims of rape sometimes avoid thinking about what happened to them as a way of coping with the trauma, but avoiding painful memories can interfere with recovery. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) helps victims identify their “stuck points,” the parts of their rape story that are the most difficult to revisit and overcome
- Stress Inoculation Training
Stress inoculation training (SIT) helps a person gain confidence in his or her ability to cope with anxiety and fear due to trauma. Whether used with rape survivors or others, SIT incorporates three primary treatment elements:
(1) Psychoeducation to help victims understand and normalize their fear
(2) Repeated exposure to situations or places that trigger fear and anxiety (for example, to help survivors overcome rape-related phobias like fear of darkness)
(3) Self-calming and coping skills like muscle relaxation and deep breathing to manage anxiety.
SIT may help with depression, fear, anxiety, PTSD, hostility, mood, assertiveness, and self-esteem.
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy
In Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE), rape survivors reconstruct and organize their rape story as a way to better understand it and decrease anxiety. Survivors are asked to relive the rape scene and describe it aloud as they are imagining it, using present tense and vivid details.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
During an EMDR session, the therapist asks the survivor to mentally focus on a particularly upsetting image while the therapist moves his or her fingers in front of the survivor’s face. This is done to stimulate rapid back and forth movement of the eyes, like when watching a fast paced tennis match. Later, when this traumatic thought returns, it is supposedly not as disturbing as before.
Antidepressants and atypical antipsychotic medications are often prescribed to soldiers and survivors of sexual assault in an effort to help them cope with PTSD, depression, insomnia, and anxiety. However, there is little scientific evidence to show that these medications are effective, and they have substantial risks.
(Monica Purmalek, How do you recover from rape? 2013, National Center for Health Research)
What can he do?
- Apologize and try to make amends.
Say the words, “I’m sorry”. Repeat until forgiven.
- Forgive himself. Practice genuine self-forgiveness—which focuses on the process of working through a transgression and trying to accept the self (shame, guilt, self-flagellation) while still acknowledging wrongdoing (as opposed to simply replacing negative emotions with positive ones)
We at Counseling on Demand cite the above for the protection of our children of both sexes. For our girls and young women, we hope that we may help them avoid their life-changing trauma. For the boys and young men, we recognize that their lives can be changed as well.
It is our hope, even our mission, to do our part toward preventing, or at the very least, reducing, such abhorrent behavior. We do not pretend to be able to accomplish this alone, but with you as parents, you as young people and we as mental health professionals, together, we may.
Please join in; enlisting whomever you are able. If you feel that we can help, Counseling on Demand.com is here for you.
To the victims, you need not go through this alone. We are well versed in trauma of sexual assault.
We are just a click away.