Sexual Assaults & Society

Being a trauma therapist, I have had an increasing number of sexual assaults victims that have come to me for EMDR therapy to process their trauma.  And while the details vary from client to client, there are a couple themes that I have been noticing recently.  The first is that most sexual assaults are not what we would define as violent assaults and most victims know the perpetrators.  Now this is actually more the norm than people realize, but it is worth stating so that it starts to create a picture for what I am going to elaborate on. Secondly, none of the victims said no, all of them had the ability to leave, and none of them wanted the sexual encounter…and yet they all stayed.  They were all frozen in their ability to say no or walk away.   This may or may not seem unbelievable, why would anyone stay around for an assault they don’t want?  While I have noticed that many victims are very trapped by their own thinking that leads to them not being able to say no in the moment, which leads to shame, the bigger factor is the perpetrator’s sense of entitlement and pushing to get what they want.  This is my third theme, all the perpetrators had a sense of being owed and that them getting what they wanted sexually what was important and what the victim wanted didn’t matter.  None of them checked in to make sure the victim was willing and even if the victim showed reluctance, they ignored them and continued what they were doing. All of this is terrible and is leading to a lot of pain, but what I am really left to ponder is how are we raising people who are victimizers?   What in our society and households is leading to people who take advantage of others for their own gain?   In regards to sex, I think that early exposure to sexual content reshapes a child’s brain in ways it is not supposed to.  This includes porn or high sexualized movies/tv shows(your children should not be watching Game of Thrones, you are not the cool parent by letting them.  If they aren’t old enough to be having sex, they shouldn’t be watching it).  As a child’s brain is still young and developing, they have a hard time distinguishing reality from fiction.  This is why children will often talk about dreams as if they really happened.  So when kids watch violent video games or movies or tv, their brains hard-wire the violence like they are seeing it in person.  This doesn’t mean they will all grow up to be violent, but if it is not something you want them exposes to in person, it shouldn’t be on their screens.  So brain exposure is one element, but what about the mentality that people are there to be used?  I think there are two pieces at play.  One is the way parents train their kids to behave toward others. Is kindness taught or do kids watch parents take advantage of others for their own good?   Are people objects to be used to reach their own goals and needs or is it they are to be respected and valued?   I believe this goes beyond sexual objectification in our society, which happens toward men and women in different ways, and is really damaging to the way we look at and treat others.  People can be beautiful and have value in looks, but their true value lies on the inside and that is what people should be teaching their kids.  The second piece is that I think some people are wired to be users of others.  I think this occurs on a variety of levels and, to some extent, we all are looking to get something out of relationships, but I believe some people go above and become users and take advantage of people for their own purposes.  There may be some people who are looking to get a need met and go about it poorly(this does not include to a sexual assault/domestic violence level, that is never about getting a need met.  It is about power and control and abuse), but I think a lot of people become so twisted they truly do not think there is anything wrong with what they are doing. That is very dangerous and leads to victimization of others.
So what is the point of all this?  Parents teach your kids to be respectful of others and to give more than they get from others(without being a doormat or pleaser).  Don’t expose them too early to the things you wouldn’t want them to see in person, i.e. violence, sex, etc.  Teach your kids the power of their own voice to stand up and say no and sometimes that means you listen to them respectfully tell you how you messed up as a parent or what rule they don’t like. Listen to the hurt that those around us want to share.  Examine your own goals in relationships, is it for what you can get out of them or what you can contribute to them?
And since we are talking sexual assault, not only does no mean no, but unless you are asking and get a confident yes, don’t do it!

The Importance of Early Intervention After Traumatic Incidents

The recent shooting in Las Vegas is a shocking reminder of how life can change in an instant. A happy moment can suddenly turn horrifying and traumatic. When these traumatic incidents occur, our brains and bodies spring into action, doing whatever it deems necessary to survive by activating the hyperarousal system. Once the traumatizing situation is over, our brains are often left struggling with how to process what we have just seen and experienced. Different people will cope in different ways: some will avoid bringing up what has happened to them and will state that they are “fine” or continue on as if nothing ever happened. Other people will be frozen, unable to function in daily life as they their brains are overstimulated with what has happened and shuts down as a result. And still some people will recognize that something has happened that they are incapable of dealing with on their own and they will seek professional help. There are some who will endure a traumatic situation and they are able to process the trauma without any professional intervention, but these tend to not be the norm.
Regardless of what leads people to respond in different ways, not dealing with trauma when it happens can lead to brains and bodies getting “stuck” and re-experiencing the trauma over and over. Most people know of the diagnosis of PTSD, but don’t consider what they have experienced to be “bad enough” to cause PTSD. However, PTSD doesn’t only happen in combat or extreme situations and what may cause PTSD for one person may not cause PTSD for another person. When the brain and body gets “stuck” in re-experiencing the trauma, it often needs help to break the cycle. One of the most effective ways I have found to break this cycle is with a therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). I am including a link to a website that explains what EMDR is and how it works (http://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/). I have been utilizing this model of therapy for over three years and have found it to be highly effective in reducing anxiety, hypervigilance, racing thoughts, and disturbing memories. I have also found it to be highly effective in increasing the amount and quality of sleep, which is very important as traumatic incidents and PTSD can lead to an inability to sleep and a lack of sleep affects all areas of functioning and our quality of life. It is important to get help when we experience the abnormal and the sooner we get help, the sooner our brains and bodies are able to go back to their normal functioning because they have been able to process the trauma that we have experienced. Without help, the brain and body tends to adapt around the trauma and this tends to be unhealthy and have negative outcomes. Most people who get into serious car accidents do not think twice about getting physically evaluated at the hospital, but not often think about getting evaluated mentally for possible trauma from the accident. It is my hope that it becomes as automatic for people to seek counseling for traumatic incidents as they do for physical traumas.

-Naomi Cooper Martin