Triggered: Sexual Violence Survivors & PTSD | Teen Ink

Triggered: Sexual Violence Survivors & PTSD MAG

February 7, 2018
By Anonymous

Three hundred and fourteen days – that’s how long it has been since I was last sexually assaulted. Zero seconds – that’s how long it has been since I last thought about sexual assault.

For nearly a year, not a day has passed without me remembering rape. For most heterosexual, cisgender males, no more than a few moments are spent considering sexual violence during the course of their entire lives. Unsurprisingly, it’s difficult for those who haven’t suffered sexual violence to understand the toll that such trauma takes on an individual. Victims can suffer through traumatic memories on a daily basis. It’s a constant, exhausting test of your emotional stability, composure, and resiliency. Just when you think that you’ve been granted a day’s vacation from psychophysical attacks – that you’ve been blessed with something like a Christmas day ceasefire – thoughts about your assault strike at the 23rd hour when you’re rinsing the day off your body, dozing off, or even dreaming. Not even sleep can offer protection from breaching memories; for nightmares are a trademark of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – a syndrome commonly suffered by soldiers and sexual assault survivors.

There’s a misconception sexual assault survivors are only “triggered” by sexual contact or encountering graphic depictions of sexual violence. The truth is that, for many survivors, triggers are in every place and every thing. Triggers are multifarious in nature, taking somatic, sensory (i.e. auditory, aural, haptic, gustatory, and visual), emotional, and even cognitive forms. Since sexual violence precipitates profound anguish, anything physically or emotionally painful can bring a survivor directly back to their trauma. It follows that commonplace phenomena which are benign to most people have the potential to inflict suffering on sexual assault survivors. For instance, an unexpected hug, a betrayal of trust, driving alone with another person, catching a whiff of strong cologne, and being offered the type of cereal that your ex liked (seven out of 10 rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows well) can all elicit PTSD responses from victim-survivors if they are associated with the assaulter, the location of the assault, or the assault itself.

So, the next time you catch yourself rolling your eyes at a seemingly unnecessary trigger warning or expecting a victim-survivor to “just get over” or “forget” their traumatic experiences, remember that it’s impossible to ignore something that’s always lingering beneath the surface or your consciousness. Most importantly, remember that victims-survivors are more than their trauma. We are impacted but not defined by the atrocities which befell us. We’re humans and have personalities, talents, passions, and dreams just like anyone else. We’re not irredeemably broken; we have the resilience of forests after a wildfire.



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