I can remember when I did a brief mental health screening on a woman I will call Jane Doe. Everything appeared to be going well, but about half-way through the evaluation Jane started sweating, her hands began to shake, and her body language and posture changed.
I probed and paused and then a tear fell from her eye. She grabbed one of the tissues from the box on my desk and said,
“Not now…not right now.”
Later that day as I was leaving Jane came over to me,
“You know, your cologne smells like his.”
“My cologne…who are you referring to.”
“The man that sexually assaulted me.”
I sat down as she continued.
“I thought I was over that…it happened when I was 15…this was more than 30 years ago…”
We went back into my office at the program I was employed with and I did another evaluation. Only this time when I came to the question about being “Sexually Assaulted” Jane was able to open up and share her abusive past.
Sexual Assault and PTSD
As I mentioned during the first evaluation Jane became uneasy when I asked her about being sexually assaulted. In some cases these reactions are caused by a mental health disorder called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
PTSD is defined as, “A disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event.” Relating to the terrifying event of being sexually assaulted. The Center for Disease Control reports:
- 1 and 5 Women (18.3%) and 1 and 71 Men (1.4%) reported experiencing rape.
- Approximately 1 and 20 men and women experienced some sort of sexual coercion i.e. experienced sexual violence other than rape, such as being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, or non-contact unwanted sexual experiences, in the 12 months prior to the survey. In a nationally representative survey of adults, 37.4% of female rape victims were first raped between ages 18-24.
- 3% female rape victims and 27.8% of male rape victims were first raped when they were age 10 or younger.
- Among high school students, 12.5% of American Indian/Alaska Natives, 10.5% of Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander students, 8.6% of black students, 8.2% of Hispanic students, 7.4% of white students, and 13.5% of multiple-race students reported that they were forced to have sexual intercourse at some time in their lives.
These are just a few of many of statistics about sexual assault. Regardless if the traumatic episode was five minutes ago or five years ago the condition can be triggered given the right environment and situation.
There are several hallmark indicators to determine if you are suffering with PTSD. The main conditions are: nightmares, memories, avoidance, reactions, depression, and anxiety.
When I revaluated Jane she told me about the nightmares she was having. She shared that sometimes the nightmares seemed so real that she would wake up screaming and in a cold sweat. She also shared that her heart would be racing and everything felt as if it was happening all over again.
Jane was struggling with unwanted memories of the incident. These memories would be vivid and very graphic. In this case, the smell of my cologne triggered Jane and caused these unwanted feelings and thoughts to resurface.
During the reevaluation Jane told me that she would avoid listening to certain songs because they were playing in the background when her perpetrator assaulted her. For some, they may avoid certain television shows, stores, events, and even relative’s home because the assault either took place there or reminds them of the incident.
Some of the signs of depression can include: insomnia, loss of appetite, feelings of hopelessness, or just general discount. In addition to this there are more subtle symptoms such as lack of concentration, guilt, fatigue, excessive hunger, irritability, social isolation and even mood swings.
I was able to notice Jane’s discomfort during the first assessment. A few of the symptoms to keep in mind are trembling, sweating, heart palpitations, and hypervigilance. Jane told me that she felt all of those symptoms including a bit of nausea.
In some cases PTSD is so severe that individuals may be prescribed medications to help reduce the symptoms. Combined with therapy, medications can be used to provide comfort and relief of the aforementioned conditions. However, as individuals learn coping skills during therapy psychiatrist may reduce medications to discourage medication dependence as a way of addressing the disorder.
As it relates to addressing problems, none has been more powerful of late than that of the #MeToo Movement in dealing with sexual assault and sexual harassment.
The #MeToo Movement
The #MeToo Movement which is a national and international stance against sexual assault and sexual harassment has produced great results. Industry titans, politicians, celebrities, and world famous athletes have been ousted and made accountable for their actions and behavior.
In some cases these individuals have faced jail time. While others have lost their positions and even been forced to leave political offices. Yet some perpetrators have had to face their victims during court proceedings.
These are great strides towards change and correction of a system that often makes sufferers of sexual assault and sexual harassment feel guilty for coming forward and sharing their story. But as empowering as the #MeToo Movement is I am still looking for Jane, please help me find her.
You see, Jane will not feel empowered for stepping forward she would feel frighten. Jane will not unleash her pain, she will continue to bear her burden. Jane will not speak out she will hold it in. Jane will not embrace the breakthrough, but she will seek to suffer in silence.
Jane is not defined by gender. There are men who feel and do the same thing. There men who have been scared by sexual assault as they wondered why their bodies reacted to the touch of their perpetrator. There are men who were little boys who wondered how can they love me and do this to me.
I urge you to come forward and share your story. If you are dealing with PTSD due to being sexually assaulted please seek help.
Prayer and Professional Help
In conclusion, this is word to my brothers and sisters in the church. I believe in prayer and the Power of God. I know that God can do anything but fail and provide a way out of no way. I have seen miracles and been the conduit that God has used to perform miracles.
With that being said let me share this, God has gifted certain people to help individuals treat PTSD due to sexual assault in therapy. Proverbs 20:5 (KJV), “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
I take this verse to mean that the deep waters are like problems in a person’s heart. These are the issues tormenting a person’s soul. But the man of understanding is symbolic of a trained professional who can draw out or bring the problem to the surface. A therapist can then teach coping skills to help individuals overcome the disorder and live a greater quality of life.
During the initial assessment with Jane I was able to discern the changes in Jane’s behavior and body language. Based upon my years of experience in counseling this led me to probe and in turn help Jane discuss the sexual assault. If you are reading this article and dealing with symptoms of PTSD due to sexual assault book a session today.