Tag Archives: Date Rape

How is a Sexual Assault Victim Supposed to Look/Act Like?

It seems like I have written a number of entries over the past several months about sexual assault and rape. (https://psychobabblechat.com/2014/11/21/rape-it-has-to-stop/; https://psychobabblechat.com/2014/10/20/date-rape-is-rape/). Every time I write one, it is because something in my personal or professional life has triggered my need to say something – whether it is a news item involving a sexual assault (Hello, Bill Cosby) or a client sharing her own difficulties – something happens and keeps bouncing around in my head until I put in on paper (or computer screen).

I have had a number of clients bring up the Rolling Stone magazine article depicting the alleged gang rape of a university freshman (http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/a-rape-on-campus-20141119). I will not revisit the article (please feel free to read the original article), but be aware there are allegations the girl made the story up and supposedly the fraternity mentioned in the article is planning to sue the magazine (http://www.universityherald.com/articles/17184/20150324/university-of-virginia-fraternity-considering-lawsuit-against-rolling-stone-for-gang-rape-article.htm).

I do not presume to know what did or did not happen in this specific situation, but it has incited a number of interesting conversations in session. Most specifically, what does a sexual assault victim look and act like? This is an impossible question to answer because there is no simple answer. Someone who has been raped may be sad or angry or may act like nothing at all happened. They may continue the “relationship” with their perpetrator and may not talk about the assault for a long time – if ever. Why? Well, because sexual assault is a confusing experience.

All too often, I hear that an alleged victim is not believed because she did not “act like a victim”. Many women have told me (especially in the case of acquaintance or date rape) they might be confused about what actually happened. They may hold mistaken ideas that rape is something that happens when you are grabbed in a dark parking lot and are held at knife point, not when a boyfriend refuses to take no for an answer after you have been voluntarily making out for hours. While they are trying to make sense of it all, they may even initiate continued contact with the perpetrator. This is often misconstrued by the police or media or the world as proof that the woman engaged in consensual sex. This is not always the case – it is just such a complicated issue.

I’ve even have clients who felt they were not believed because they were not perceived as attractive enough o have been raped. Can you believe it? Total BS. Sexual assault is about violence and power – not romance. People from all ages, races, sizes – basically every possible option out there – are sexually assaulted. I hate the idea that a survivor of rape feels the need to justify their “rape-worthiness”. Load of crap.

So…. what is my takeaway message here? I just recommend that you keep an open mind. Don’t assume that anything  having to do with sexual assault can ever be a simple issue. I am not advocating you always take the alleged victim at face value, but try your best to remember there is no one way to react to trauma. Just because someone is not acting like you assume you would, does not mean the trauma did not occur.

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You are a Survivor

I’ve noticed something lately. I used to think people were “playing the victim” to be manipulative or to get attention and/or sympathy, but I think there is more to it. When you are the victim, you don’t have to change – you are doing nothing wrong. The bad thing is happening to you because someone else is doing something mean or evil or wrong or mean to you. They are the ones who need to change their behavior or be punished. You just get to be you.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of times someone is doing something to you that is horrible and undeserved and you did absolutely nothing to bring it on. That sucks. I get it. But, and here is the big but, you decide what you are going to do about it and how you are going to recover. You get to decide if you are a victim or a survivor. There is a lot more power and control over your life as a survivor than as a victim.

If a man beats a woman – that is terrible. He is a reprehensible human being and deserves to be punished within the fullest extent of the law (and maybe a little bit more). This woman has experienced something tragic and painful and, undoubtedly, feels scared and betrayed. Labeling her as “the victim” means she has no power over what happens to her next. It limits her. If she views herself as a victim, she may feel vulnerable. If she is a survivor, she can stand up and get out of the relationship. She can heal her body, mind, and spirit and rebuild her life.

If a child grows up in a home rife with abuse, he or she can be a “victim of child abuse” or a survivor of child abuse. Can you imagine how people selecting those two different labels might view themselves and their experiences? One is empowering while the other seems to minimize their power.

This isn’t just about abuse. We can become so firmly entrenched in bad or unfair things that are happening to us that we don’t look for a way out. The weight of the “bad” holds us down and almost smothers us. It is important to look around you to see if there is any way to make the situation better and, if not, how to find an exit strategy. A client of mine recently told me about the difficulties he was having with his supervisor at work. He felt she was unjustifiably critical of him and often ignored his requests for assistance. He reported feeling trapped by her and saw no way to “make her change”. We began to explore their interactions (through his report, of course) and he discovered he has a tendency to be defensive, argumentative and passive-aggressive with this supervisor. We discussed how his style of communication might be contributing to her treatment of him. This was not all on him – at least it didn’t seem so, but once we could identify how he was exacerbating the situation, we could problem-solve ways to (hopefully) improve their relationship. My client had been so stuck in his self-identified role as the victim of his mean supervisor he had not been able to recognize his own behaviors. He could not change what he did not recognize. When we become so firmly entrenched in our position as the victim, we cannot acknowledge changes we might make to improve the situation.

Let’s sum this is – if you are in a problematic relationship, look for ways you might be able to make It better. If this isn’t possible, look for your way out. Life it is too short to be miserable. You are a survivor.

Say it Ain’t So, Dr. Huxtable!

I am a child of the late 1970s and the 1980s. This means I grew up watching Charles in Charge, Punky Brewster, Mork & Mindy, Saved by the Bell, Full House, Growing Pains, and Diff’rent Strokes. The show that made the greatest impression on me as a kid was The Cosby Show. Who didn’t want to be a member of the Huxtable household – they were intelligent and loving and, happily, wrapped up life’s challenges in a 30-minute episode each week. I was most struck by Dr. Cliff Huxtable played by Bill Cosby, he was caring and funny and always seemed to know the best approach to teach his children (and me) an important life lesson.

I am fully aware as an adult that an actor is simply a person playing a role. They do not (necessarily) embody any of the qualities of the characters they portray, but to me Bill Cosby has always been Dr. Huxtable. He is the smiling man who convinced me to beg my mom to buy me Jello Pudding Pops each week (they really were delicious). I could trust him completely and he could never steer me wrong.

I’ve recently learned there were initial allegations that Mr. Cosby raped a number of women in 2005. These allegations went back as far as 1969 and were as recent as 2005. I was completely unaware of these events occurring – it was the year my daughter was born and I think I was on a near total blackout during her infancy (I blame lack of sleep). These allegations came and went without my awareness. I was aware, however, when new allegations began to surface this year. I do not know Mr. Cosby (despite having “spent” my childhood with him) nor do I know any of his alleged victims. I do not know if he did the horrible things they claim he did to them. I do worry when there are so many complaints – the adage “where there is smoke, there is fire” comes to mind, but I don’t know.

Recent audiotapes of Stephen Collins (Reverend Camden on 7th Heaven) while in marriage in counseling with his wife revealed he had behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner with a number of underage girls in the past.  It is unclear if there are additional victims of his sexually abusive behavior. The public was shocked, as he had always been portrayed as a positive role model. He, also, did not fit the public’s image of a child sexual abuser.

We need to change the way we look at perpetrators. Remember in the 80s (if you were alive in the 80s), we were all taught “Stranger Danger”. We learned bad guys were strangers who roamed our neighborhoods waiting to kidnap, rape, and/or murder us. We were instructed to shout, “Stranger” and run screaming to nearby houses and pound on doors until someone came and rescued us. What we weren’t taught is 90% of children know their offender with 50% being related to them.

What we should learn from this is perpetrators of sexual abuse/assault come in all shapes and sizes. He can be the friendly uncle who makes us laugh or the creepy guy who makes you want to cross the street to avoid him. He can be young or old, tall or short, thin or fat, black or white. It is important to let go of our stereotypes of what a rapist looks like. These stereotypes can lead us to a false sense of security and make us to think we are safe when we are not. They can cause us to doubt a woman’s allegations because her attacker does not fit our image of someone who might do us harm.

It is important to teach our young women (and society at large) that a perpetrator can be anyone. We need to take precautions no matter with whom we are interacting and to tell, tell, tell if something inappropriate occurs. We need to stop letting people off the hook because they are famous, or “nice”, or educated, or religious, or “anything”. Dr. Huxtable/Mr. Cosby, if you did the things these women claim you did, it makes me sad and you should face the consequences.

Date Rape is Rape

I work with a lot of teen girls and young women and, sometimes in the course of getting to know them, I learn they have been the victim of sexual assault at some point in their lives. Now this might be the reason they have scheduled an appointment to come and see me, but many times it is not, but is part of their history they want to share. Sexual assault is terrible, no matter the circumstances, but I have grown increasingly frustrated with hearing, “It was just date rape” or “Well, it was someone I knew” as if this somehow lessens the trauma of the experience or reduces their right to complain as compared to women who have experienced “real rape”. Gah! This is so frustrating! Rape is rape whether the victim knows the perpetrator or not, whether she was grabbed in a dark alley or not, and whether there was additional physical violence or not. Rape is rape.

I want to point out the many ways a victim of date rape may suffer differently than those who are the victim stranger rape (is that even the right term?) Don’t get me wrong, both are terrible, traumatic, life-changing experiences, but I want to highlight how the lesser considered event has its own unique challenges to overcome:

  1. Date rape leads you to doubt your own ability to separate the good guys from the bad guys. This person had enough of your trust that you were hanging out with them. You felt safe enough (frequently) to be alone with him. He violated that trust and treated you with nothing short of contempt and violence. Many women lose their ability to trust themselves when they feel they can no longer trust others.
  2. Others may minimize your experience. The tried and true statements about it being “just date rape” minimizes your experience and may reduce the amount of support your receive from others. You may feel you need to prove to them just how deeply you were impacted by what happened to you. It can be frustrating to feel people just don’t understand how hard it is.
  3. You may be confused about what actually happened. I hear this a lot. Women need time to come to terms with what happened to them and may even be tempted to deny what happened. Acknowledging your sexual assault (even to yourself) may feel like pressure to act – to do something about it.
  4. Some people will blame you for this happening to you. You led him on. You were a tease. You wanted it. This sucks. They are terrible. I am sorry.
  5. He may blame you. He will likely deny any rape occurred. He will say the sex was consensual and without any signs of physical injuries (which may or may not be present), it becomes a “he said/she said” situation. All too often, this is why these crimes go unreported.

If you take anything away from this rant of mine, please let it be this – rape is rape whether the victim knows the perpetrator or not. If you, or someone you know, are sexually assaulted it is a traumatic experience. You did nothing wrong. It is always 100% the perpetrator’s fault, whether you know him or not.