The ef­fects of an as­sault

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Lau­ren Jones Hill­man Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent

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.

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