The effects of an assault
Many trauma victims have a hard time putting the puzzle pieces together, and the reason is the way our brains work.
If you’ve ever experienced a traumatic event — a car wreck, a natural disaster or even a freak accident — you’ll know there are some details you can recall clearly while others remain fuzzy.
“During an assault, your brain can’t make those connections, so it’s hard to remember details afterward,” said Alice Williams, a licensed professional counselor based in Rome who works with trauma victims.
That’s because our brains are hardwired to protect us. During trauma, your hippocampus — the part of the brain that houses memories, emotions and your ability to move your body — becomes triggered by stress hormones and overloaded with information.
The hippocampus is also responsible for consolidating short-term memories into longterm memories and records spatial memory, or the information about the environment where the trauma occurred.
In addition to the hippocampus glitching on recording memories, Williams explains that the body can completely shut down.
“It’s the fight or flight response,” she says. “The response is more often flight, but not always physical flight like running away. You can literally lose movement,” she says.
After a car wreck, do you freeze? Cry? Get angry? Everyone handles trauma differently. Williams says that how you personally handle shock dictates how you act afterward.
“When I worked rape cases as a victim’s advocate, sometimes victims would go into distraught mode,” explains Williams. “Others would talk normally; they’d even laugh. Detectives who hadn’t been through a lot of trauma and assault training would say, ‘I don’t believe they were really raped.’ And I’d say, ‘That’s just how they’re handling it right now.’”
After her rape, Faith developed post traumatic stress disorder. She lived in fear and sometimes when she looked at other men — even her friends — she would see the image of her rapist. She also had dissociative identity disorder, the mind’s way of seeing oneself from a different perspective, so as to take her out of her body in order to cope.
“I would be doing the dishes and suddenly I would feel like I was above looking down on my body,” says Faith. “I was trying to function like a normal person, but I wasn’t. I was inside myself someplace screaming and writhing.”
Control at any cost
Why do rapists rape in the first place? For centuries, psychologists have found the answer is the same as with most violent offenders. It isn’t about passion. It isn’t about sex.
“It’s all about power and control,” Williams said. “People think it’s a sexual thing, but it really has nothing to do with sex.”
According to RAINN, the majority of perpetrators know their victims. Fifty percent of offenders are age 30 and older and 57 percent are white. They’re also most likely to be repeat offenders.
Faith found speaking out about her assault was healing. But she ended up isolating herself more and even lost her job.
“I had to talk about it, but it pushed people away. I lost 99 percent of my friends and the ones who stuck around eventually got sick of it. I was in so much pain.”
While it’s unlikely that most rapists will even get arrested, Faith says she feels they’ll get their comeuppance eventually.
“I wanted (my rapist) to see me stand up and say, ‘I’m speaking out about this.’ Regardless of whether or not anything happened to him, he still has to deal with the consequences to some degree.”
Part 5 of this series looks at how previous Georgia laws regarding rape kits impact survivors. Look for Part 5 in Monday’s edition of the Rome News-Tribune.