Monday, April 02, 2007

Social Support After Rape and PTSD


This article by Sarah E. Ullman, Stephanie M. Townsend, Henreitta H. Filipas, and Laura L. Starzynski of the Department of Criminal Justice, University of Illinois at Chicago has a long title, but it contains important information.

From the abstract:

A number of studies have identified which survivors of sexual assault are more likely to develop symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Most correlates that have been identified have been at the individual level. Insufficient attention has been given to whether survivors' social interactions impact their individual responses to assault and subsequent levels of psychological symptomatology. In this study, a large, diverse sample of community-residing women (N = 636) was surveyed. Structural equation modeling was used to examine the relationships between assault severity, global support, negative social reactions, avoidance coping, self-blame, traumatic life experiences, and PTSD symptoms. The results suggest that negative social reactions and avoidance coping are the strongest correlates of PTSD symptoms and that the association typically observed between victim self-blame and PTSD symptoms may be partially due to the effect of negative social reactions from others. These reactions may contribute to both self-blame and PTSD. Implications for future research and clinical practice are discussed. (emphasis mine)

This doesn't surprise me at all. Those who respond to reports of rape with lectures or Monday morning quarterbacking aimed at the victim or who respond with denial either don't know or don't care that they are heaping additional damage onto victims by reinforcing the rationalizations of rapists.

The people with the negative social reactions aren't limited to anti-feminists. Feminists can say words that are just as damaging and because those words come from someone "on the side of rape victims" the impact can be greater than the same words from someone who says all women lie about rape.

If someone behaved toward me today the way my boyfriend did when I was fifteen, that person wouldn't succeed at raping me. The difference isn't that I chose sex all those years ago as many of those around me assumed, the difference is that I am aware of the dangerous attitudes that led my boyfriend to believe he had the right to make my decision for me.

The paradox of this is that I am frequently attacked as anti-men for this heightened awareness, but because I didn't have this awareness at age 15, people have called me stupid for not preventing my own rape or deny that what I experienced was rape at all. Often the same people hold both of these contradictory views.

There can be harsh judgments toward rape victims who freeze and who don't know how to stop someone from violating them or who don't know how to get away from a dangerous situation. This judgment comes from ignorance and arrogance about what the judgers believe they would do in a particular situation.

When people insist that the events of the rape aren't as the victim remembers them to be, that is a form of gaslighting ala the movie Gaslight. If these people succeed in getting survivors to question what were clear memories, then survivors can begin thinking they are crazy.

My own avoidance coping after being raped happened largely because of a history of negative (and innacurate) social reactions toward girls who weren't virgins or who were assumed not to be virgins. How those girls got that way wasn't important from what I had heard people say. Many people didn't hold these views, but their views either weren't spoken in my presence or they were drowned out by the warnings meant to keep me from being lured by all those boys who very naturally want to turn me into "one of those girls." Those who countered this view also ignored the possibility of rape. Being told to feel good about having sex didn't help when that sex was really rape.

No wonder I spun out of control so quickly after the shock of being raped wore off.

Hat tip: Providentia

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 1:14 PM   2 comments links to this post


At April 22, 2007 2:36 PM, Blogger The Speaker said...

Just a little note (and I know this has little to do with what you are saying but...): The other day in my health class, someone brought up PTSD and the teacher made this statement: "PTSD only affects veterans of war." It is a very ignorant statement and one I responded to.

I said: That's not true. Survivor's of many violent crimes experience PTSD as well. Rape and sexual assault are directly linked to the disorder.

The Teacher: Really? I thought it only affected survivor's of war.

I said: Rape is a war.

Just as a note. I needed to share that with someone.

At April 23, 2007 12:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At age 14 i entered into an abusive relationship with a boy (16. When i was 15 he assulted me for the first of meny times. 5 months after my 18th birthday was the straw that broke this camels back and i left him for good. i am now 1 week off my 19th birthday, and dispite everything, iam the strongest i have ever been. I have wonderful friends who can dry my eyes to find the smile underneath and an amazingly supportive boyfriend, who's patience understanding, and support have made exploring a new relationship the best possiable expirence despite the constent difficulties we face. To all survivors, weather you knew your attacker, weather you had second thoughts, or said no from the start, weather you physical fought back or couldn't, weather you pressured, tricked or forced.. thank you, without you'd i'd have been alone. Your stories, your pain and your successes made strong... again thanks... i owe you one


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