It seems to never fail that when the media gets a hold of a story of rape that facts and details are muddled. No, they aren’t outright lies but an image is painted in the viewer’s imagination to believe a picture very different from the facts. The picture that is painted is often one where the viewer feels a sense of security as long they don’t behave a certain way or are careful.
I’ll never forget reading an article in the paper one day about a rape that happened in the local community. The media made it sound like the victim was walking alone in the middle night in the alleys of the town. After a little digging I discovered that the truth was very different. Was the victim walking alone at night? Yes, but at 7pm in the summer when the sun is still out. Was the victim walking around by herself? Yes, but in the main streets of the town. It wasn’t till after the perpetrator came after did she ran off the main street. Hmmm…sounds very different then the first story. I believe that the purpose of twisting of the story is a kind of denial. People don’t want to believe that they can get raped and be doing “all the right things” (which are what by the way?). The truth is the most safety conscious person can become a victim of rape.
One of the main reasons for that is because the idea that most rapes are committed by strangers is a myth!!! Most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows well and usually trusts. Think about it who is the easier victim; the one who is cautious and safety conscious, or a close friend where trust and a sense of security is already built. There are even many cases of perpetrators grooming a victim, because their ultimate goal is to gain trust and then assault. Another fact; it is more likely for a victim of stranger rape to report then compared to acquaintance rape. There are definitely barriers to reporting for both categories, but many victims of acquaintance rape don’t know what to think or feel about the situation. The shock of a violent act from a person of trust may delay reporting.
So what does this mean? Do we walk around terrified and grow inability to trust? No. Unfortunately any one of us can become a victim. If it happens to you KNOW it is not your fault and don’t rely on society to tell you if qualified as rape or not. Trust your instincts. If you know someone or hear of a rape; start by believing them. Don’t question the circumstances surrounding it; that isn’t your role. Victims often blame themselves for things that are completely out of their control. Our role is to support them and reaffirm that it is not their fault.
When traumatic things happen our bodies react, it’s biological. We’ve all heard the term fight or flight……but that isn’t always what happens. There is one more response that isn’t known as well. Freeze. Now I could get into all the nitty gritty of the science behind that, but I will leave the link by Dr. David Lisak to do that. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=py0mVt2Z7nc)
When the body reacts to trauma it goes into a primal mode and hormones and the adrenal system are activated. There is no way to predict how one will respond or whether it will be the same for each circumstance. A particular cocktail of hormones create the “freeze response”. Scientists compare the response to that of animals that protect themselves by playing dead. Maybe the response is determined by how grievous the situation. So with that logic that must mean that freezing only happens in violent or stranger rape situations. Wrong. According to research the brain reacts the same way. The body doesn’t make the distinction, but society does. There is something innately wired that views rape as extremely distressing and may trigger the response.
Unfortunately those who may experience tonic immobility have no idea what is happening, which may lead to blaming themselves. It often leads to the “would have” “could have” or “should have”. I should have left. Why didn’t I get up? I wasn’t afraid for my life so why did I just lie there? I could have fought them. All these thoughts are a result of thinking that there may be a control over these responses, but often there is not.
The response reminds me of that bad dream that most of us have; of something awful happening to us but we are unable to move. The dream might just be an indicator that our body has a third response to danger.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, it is not your fault! It excites me to know that there is more and more science that show how most responses aren’t crazy….but 100% normal and a biological response.
For 24 hour help go to: rainn.org or Safehelpline.org
The idea of mindfulness is often foreign to the military and today’s culture in general. The world screams at us to do more and tells us not stop until we drop, but that is the furthest thing from healthy. Mindfulness doesn’t mean to take it easy, but it is the practice of quieting one’s mind in order to function more effectively. Mindfulness is a good practice for all peoples, but it has particular benefits to those who have experienced some sort of trauma.
A sexual assault survivor may experience many different forms of PTSD; from flashbacks, panic attacks and hyper vigilance. Aside from the symptoms of trauma; a survivor may experience “cloudiness” in their thinking. Their whole world was turned upside down and suddenly the ability to function in the daily work routine is impaired. This is where mindfulness exercises come in handy. It’s not about coming to some magical place where everything is fine, but rather finding acceptance in the current moment.
Right now I want you to take a moment to think about your now. Are you safe? Are you comfortable? What does your now look like? In these moments it will be easy for your mind to wander to what is wrong, but I challenge you to refocus your thoughts. The past may scream hurt, pain, and an atrocity committed against you and the future may lead you to fear, but what is your present like? In this current moment I’m safe, I have a decent job and I know that I have people in my life who truly love and care for me. In my own life I have to focus on the now, because the past may hurt and the future might be scary, but I know I can find peace in the present moment.
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