PTSD and Sexual Assault

Another hard post to write.

I spend many of my work hours talking with survivors of sexual assault of some type.  It’s not always rape, but it is always traumatic.

Whenever  you have  a dangerous, harmful, threatening or just frightening experience, coupled with a lot of negative emotion, you have trauma.  There are “small t” traumas that we recover from pretty quickly.  These can be things like taking a sudden fall, or losing a wallet or credit card.  They’re troublesome, but not overwhelming.

Then you have “Big T” trauma, which can mean different things to different people. As I’ve said before, these can include  being caught in hurricanes, tsunamis, flooding and other natural disasters;  mass shootings, bombings, wars, persecutions, torture, and so on. A key factor in this type of trauma is that the victim either feels or actually is helpless to escape or prevent what is happening.

Sexual assault is always traumatic. Sometimes the victims become angry at being considered victims. That’s normal and actually pretty healthy.  They are angry that they were in a situation in which they were violated on the most personal level possible, and could do nothing to stop it.

Worse, victims of sexual assault are often made to feel as if they are to blame for what has happened to them. Not only do they feel terrified, vulnerable and frightened; they also feel guilty and defiled. They are sure that everyone knows what happened, and that everyone is now looking at them with disgust.

The symptoms a victim experiences following sexual assault can include the full range of PTSD symptoms, but some are more marked than others.   Depression, lots of crying–uncontrollable, and often coming out of the blue.  Anxiety. A desire to isolate, to hide inside the house or bedroom; hypervigilance; a strong startle reflex; sometimes a tendency to dress in uncharacteristically “frumpy” or unattractive clothing; flashbacks of the assault, nightmares; and a strong aversion to being touched sexually or any other way.

Anyone who has experienced sexual assault could probably add to that list.  Everyone’s experience and reaction is unique to the person and to the incident.  If there was a weapon involved, that increases the fear factor.

I know someone who was raped after the guy put something in her drink–her non-alcohol drink, by the way. She wasn’t at a bar or in a club.  She should have been completely safe, but she wasn’t.  When she woke up and realized what had happened, she  was horrified.  In my mind, this is a completely despicable act on the man’s part.  To resort to such tactics is beneath contempt.  She is pursuing him legally, partly because a friend of hers pointed out to her that she probably wasn’t his first victim, and if no one stops him, she won’t be the last.

She is struggling with some PTSD symptoms, and it’s no surprise to me. The problem is, she’s trying to convince herself that it wasn’t really a trauma, that it didn’t rise to that level. She’s wrong, and I’m doing my best to convince her of that.

For a victim of sexual assault, I think perhaps the strongest reaction is the one of degradation, defilement, and guilt.  It’s not just in our society that the woman is the one on trial when she is raped (I know, men are also victims of rape and everything I’m saying here in the female pronoun applies exactly the same for them).  There are places in the world in which, if a woman is raped, her male relatives feel called upon to kill her because she has shamed the family.

I think of the story in the gospels in which some Pharisees self-righteously threw a woman “caught in the very act” of adultery at Jesus’ feet, demanding judgment on her.  I’ve always wondered what happened to the man she was with.  I guess he got away, or he would have been in trouble too, right?   And I love it that Jesus calmly stooped down and wrote something in the dust of the ground, and then told them that whoever was without sin among them could cast the first stone.

They turned and walked away, with their tails tucked between their legs. God does not look on a person who has been sexually assaulted as if she is no longer worthy.  She is not the one who is defiled.  The perpetrator is the one who is defiled.

I had a young couple several years ago who came for counseling help because the woman had not told her husband that she had been molested as a child until after they were married. When he knew, he wanted to divorce.  When I asked him, “But why?  She did nothing wrong!” his response was, “I wouldn’t have married her if I had known she wasn’t pure.”

She was not the one who was made impure. The molester was the one who was impure. So I asked him, “Well, if she’s impure, and now you’ve had sex with her, then I guess that makes you impure, right?”

“No, of course not.  I was deceived, and didn’t know!”

There’s a perfect example of that double standard we hear so much about. Good grief.  They didn’t come back, and I don’t suppose they’re still married.  So why didn’t she tell him before she married him?  Well, I asked her that, and her answer was no surprise to me. She said, “I was afraid. I’ve never told anyone, because the molester always told me no one would believe me, and they would know it was my fault.  I guess he was right.”

I want to emphasize the words in the picture at the top of this post. You are not to blame. You are not alone.  Help is available.  You do NOT need to spend the rest of your life suffering over what happened to you. The rapist is the one to blame.  There is absolutely no excuse at all; I don’t care how you were dressed, and I don’t care if he told you he loved you and then betrayed your trust. None of that matters.  Rape is as much a crime of power and control as it is a crime of lust.

One of my sons said something really important on this subject.  I don’t think he’ll mind if I use his words.  He said that he has seen hundreds of girls and women who were not particularly modest, some who were flagrantly immodest, and he’s never raped a single one of them.

What a predator does, he does of his own volition, his own decision, and his own will. Sexual assault is a crime. Period. Those who are assaulted are not to blame. They are to be shown compassion and help, not judgment.

Addenda: This is by way of a postscript, I guess.  I want to reaffirm that I am fully aware that boys and men are also victims of sexual assault. You can look up the stats yourself and see that by age 18, one out of every three girls has been molested in some way; one out of every 6 or 7 boys, the last time I checked.  Neither of these numbers is acceptable. I do not mean to denigrate in any way that men who have been assaulted are just as traumatized. I am not ignoring you. Everything I’ve said in any post related to these topics is true for both sexes.

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A Sorry King

Matthew 14:9-12. “And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.”

Gruesome, isn’t it?  I keep imagining this event, and it must have been horrible, indeed.  All these people, partying with Herod;  reclining on couches around the table, as was customary, drinking and eating, laughing, watching the entertainment.  When Salome made her macabre request of Herod, I don’t know if a silence fell on the crowd or if they cheered and jeered. 

In any event, Herod was sorry. Did you ever wonder about that?  Sorry because he knew John was without fault?  Sorry because he knew John didn’t deserve death?  Or sorry because he feared the consequences?  Indeed, he could have denied Salome’s request; however, there was some little idea of honor in him, because he had vowed with an oath that he would give her whatever she asked. 

You know, it’s really not a good idea to make an open promise like that. 

So he ordered John’s death.  I’m thinking it may have been a relief  to John.  Being in prison back then was no pleasant experience. It would seem that the deed was done quickly, over with quickly. His head was placed on some sort of tray or platter and brought to Salome. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would really have wanted to see a man’s head once it was disconnected from his body.  Apparently, though, our Salome was a tough little cookie.  She simply presented the “gift” to her mother.  At this point, my imagination goes into overdrive. 

What did Herodias do?  Pat John’s head?  Leave it sitting on the table in front of her?  Laugh, mock, get up and do her own little happy dance?  What a pair, Herodias and Salome. 

John’s followers, grieving, took care of his body and took the news of his death to Jesus. 

 

Give Me His Head!

Matthew 14:6-8. “But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger.”

It was Herod’s birthday, and he threw a big party. During the course of the day or evening, Herodias coached her daughter, Salome, to dance for Herod. That the nature of the dance was sensual is pretty much universally accepted.  Salome seems to have been young, but not too young to appeal to the fleshly lusts of her uncle.  He was so pleased with her performance that he offered to give her anything she asked for.

And Herodias, again, had coached Salome.  I can imagine her, exhilarated by her dance, face flushed and eyes sparkling, approaching Herod and, glancing at her mother, saying boldly, “Give me John Baptist’s head on a tray!”

Now Herod is truly in a predicament!

The Backstory

Matthew 14:3-5. “For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison: for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.”

It would seem that John the Baptist was no less outspoken in the palace than he was in the desert.  We don’t know why he was in the palace, speaking to Herod; we only know that he told Herod in plain words that it was unlawful for him to have his sister-in-law as a mistress.  It was wrong at every level, and apparently John felt the call of God to say so.  Herodias was Herod’s brother Philip’ wife, yet she lived in the palace as Herod’s mistress.  She did so openly and without fear of reprisal, it would seem.

Well, you just don’t tell King Herod that he’s wrong and morally reprehensible.  Herod had John tossed into prison; he would have had him killed right then and there, but he feared the people who revered John as a prophet.  So John remained in prison for  a while, and I can’t imagine he was treated with any respect there.

The story continues tomorrow. It looks as if John shouldn’t have messed with Herodias, either!

Herod the Tetrarch

Matthew 14:1-2. “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus. And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist, he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves on him.”

Herod the Tetrarch was the son of the Herod who tried to have Jesus killed when He was born. The title Tetrarch refers to the size of the land over which he ruled, literally one-fourth of the area of Israel.  Herod actually had the title “King,” and he was very jealous of that position.  His realm included Judea, Samaria and Idumea. He was married to a daughter of King Aretas of Arabia, but he lived in open adultery with Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. He was in all ways an evil man, and he came to a terrible end that you can read about in Acts 12.

In Matthew 4 we learned that John the Baptist had been imprisoned. In chapter 11, he had sent his friends to Jesus to get some reassurance; in this chapter, we’ll see his end. 

Herod, like his father, was very troubled at the news of Jesus’ preaching and miracles. Anyone who seemed to be a threat to his power was on a long list of people to eliminate. He was not a religious man, but he was obviously very superstitious.  He assumed that Jesus must have been John, risen from death and doing miraculous things. 

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at why Herod had such a guilty conscience. 

Daily Prompt; BYOB(ookworm)

Daily Prompt; BYOB(ookworm)

Posted on January 24, 2014

http://dailypost.wordpress.com, #DP, Daily Prompt

Write the blurb for the book jacket of the book you’d write, if only you had the time and inclination.

Book Title:  Godly Purity in an Impure World

The Bible says that the angels fall down before God in worship. They are worshiping His holiness, which is the best and most accurate description of Who He is.

Holiness is complete purity, complete removal from sin. It is the inability to even look on that which is sinful.  This book is the expression of the author’s desire to get a glimpse of what it really means to be pure, holy, and separate from evil while living in a world that has turned more and more toward ungodliness.

Phil. 2:15-16.”That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world:  Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.”

Symptoms of Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder

There’s a lengthy list of sypmtoms.  I’ll try to condense it down to a practical picture for you.

Here is a condensed list. You can read more about it at a website I’ll give you toward the end of this post.

  • Recurrent re-experiencing of the trauma ( troublesome memories, flashbacks, recurring nightmares, and/or dissociative reliving of the trauma)
  • Avoidance that results in agoraphobic behavior and/or shutting down of all emotion
  • Hyperarousal, including sleep problems, trouble concentrating, irritability, anger, poor concentration, blackouts or difficulty remembering things, increased tendency and reaction to being startled, and hypervigilance (excessive watchfulness) to threat

Emotional deadness can result in distancing oneself from people, and/or a sense of a foreshortened future (for example, not being able to think about the future or make future plans, not believing one will live much longer). At least one re-experiencing symptom, three avoidance/numbing symptoms, and two hyperarousal symptoms must be present for at least one month and must cause significant distress or functional impairment in order for the diagnosis of PTSD to be assigned. PTSD is considered of chronic duration if it persists for three months or more.

Symptoms of PTSD that tend to be associated with (Chronic)-PTSD include problems regulating feelings, which can result in suicidal thoughts, explosive anger, or passive aggressive behaviors; a tendency to forget the trauma or feel detached from one’s life (dissociation) or body (depersonalization); persistent feelings of helplessness, shame, guilt, or being completely different from others; feeling the perpetrator of trauma is all-powerful and preoccupation with either revenge against or allegiance with the perpetrator; and severe change in those things that give the sufferer meaning, like a loss of spiritual faith or an ongoing sense of helplessness, hopelessness, or despair.

Depression is a part of PTSD.  So is disturbed sleep, a tendency toward self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, or other harmful behaviors such as sexual promiscuity. The worst part of PTSD for a lot of sufferers is the belief that no one else has ever gone through what they are experiencing; that they are “crazy” and different, and that there is no help.

Marriages are destroyed.  Jobs are lost.  Connection with friends and relatives are severed. It’s a terrible place.

It’s not just soldiers or victims of sexual assault who experience PTSD.  Any event that involves harm and death, generating great fear and a sense of helplessness, can cause PTSD.  Since 9-11, many of the first responders have struggled with it.  They are the ones who saw and heard the bodies of those who jumped rather than being burned.  They heard the cries for help from underneath tons of rubble, and couldn’t get there fast enough to save people.  They are the ones who climbed up the stairs as hundreds rushed down.  They marched into the “valley of death,” and those who managed to return have suffered with survivor guilt along with all the other horrors they saw.

Hurricanes, tsunamis, earth quakes, mass shootings, bombings and more all create the perfect setting for survivors to experience PTSD.

Next week, I’ll write specifically about PTSD and sexual assault.  In the meantime, if you’re interested, here’s just one of many good websites:

http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/post-traumatic-stress-disorder