I watched the first several episiodes of House of Cards on Netflix last night. In episode 2, one of the main characters reveals that she had been raped in college. She had kept it quiet for 25 years, telling no one but her husband, but then her rapist appears in her life again briefly. He acts like nothing ever happened and he even leaned over and kissed her cheek. A few days later, she publicly shared what happened and named her rapist.
Seeing him brought back the memories and the feelings surrounding the awful event, and finally, 25 years after the fact, she took her power back and put the pressure back on her rapist. Will that make her feel better?
Maybe. Priobably not. But it's worth it to her if there is any chance at relief. Relief from what?
Watching her situation play out triggered my own memories. Her assault took place about 25 years prior to the accusation of her rapist. Mine was only 11 years ago. Writing that feels so strange. Eleven years. That was before my youngest child was born. That sounds like a long time ago, but it feels like last week.
I was just watching the show, excited that the new new season was finally here, and my heart started racing, I felt sick to my stomach, and my eyes quickly filled with tears. When that happens, I know I can't close my eyes because then the images will start flashing in front of of me, but the longer I hold out, the more likely it is that I'll start seeing the images anyway.
That's when the full blown PTSD hits. Then I can't see anything. I can barely breathe, and emotionally it feels like I'm right back there - fighting back until I had no fight left; feeling every blow, every cut, every thrust; wondering if I'd ever see my family again.
Sometimes it hits out of the blue. It will be sparked by a particular smell or the way shadows fall on the street or a man wearing a brown sportscoat. Then I feel a sense of panic and all that goes with it - rapid heartbeat, queasy stomach, sweaty brow and palms. Imagine the emotional and physical sensations of being chased by someone with a weapon who wants to kill you. Then imagine them just erupting within you when you're not in immenent danger at all, just because you passed by someone in a the grocery store wearing a certain cologne or you hear a car door slam. Sometimes you have no idea at all why it hit you.
So you isolate yourself. Sometimes it's isolation in a crowd, where you seem to socialize a lot, but you're careful not to let anyone really know you. You try to bottle up feelings that can't be bottled up. Eventually, they'll explode. Until then, you'll be alone.
Over 22 million women in the United States have been raped. That's about 1 in every 6 women. Almost a third of rape victims develop PTSD at some point in their lifetime and 11% still have PTSD today,
In addition, 30% of rape victims suffer from major depression. They are 4.1 times more likely than non-crime victims to have comtemplated suicide, and 13 times more likely to attempt suicide than non-crime victims.
And it doesn't only happen to women. Almost three million American men have been raped, going way beyond the estimated 600,000 inmates in the prison system who have been raped.
While only 70% of female rape victims withhold the information from their families, 90% of male victims don't tell anyone. It took me 8 years to tell my husband and that was because the PTSD was so bad I had to either tell him or let him think I was crazy.
It strikes me that there are millions of women walking around as survivers of sexual assault who have PTSD and/or are suffering from other negative effects who are not even aware of what's really going on.
They don't want to say anything because they think they'll be judged, and all the evidence indicates that they are right. People expect soldiers to have PTSD, but they don't expect it from a homemaker or businesswoman.
What if we just assumed that whenever a woman exhibits behaviors like those I described above she just might be suffering from something? What if we just assumed that she had suffered and was recovering from an unforgettable event? What if we chose to be compassionate without knowing exactly what's happening?
For women who have been raped and end up with PTSD, recovery takes place over decades, not months. The impact of that one unforgettable event lasts a lifetime.