Five Online Resources about the Effects of Trauma on Survivors of Sexual Assault
Posted by On Thursday, September 4, 2014

Survivors don’t always act the way we expect. For example, they may exhibit a flat affect or have trouble remembering events. Some officials find these reactions suspicious and as a result question the credibility of the survivor’s account. But the survivor’s reactions may be the result of the trauma of a sexual assault.

Training your campus community on the effects of trauma can help dispel these misconceptions and create an environment that better supports victim/survivors. Indeed, the OCR’s Title IX FAQ emphasizes the need for schools to educate students and employees on the effects of trauma. The White House’s Not Alone report also highlights the need for better trauma-informed training.

Our courses cover the neurobiological effects of trauma on victim/survivors and we’ve also written about Dr. Rebecca Campbell’s research on this topic. But there are also some excellent, free, online resources that you can use as the school year begins to help inform staff, students, and faculty. Below we highlight a few:

  1. National Sexual Violence Resource Center — “The Brain, Body, and Trauma.”
  2. Dr. David Lisak — Neurobiology of Trauma
  3. Dr. Rebecca Campbell — Neurobiology of Sexual Assault (interview)
  4. Dr. Rebecca Campbell — Seminar on the Neurobiology of Sexual Assault
  5. International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) — Police Response to Violence Against Women


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On Naming Violence
Posted by On Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Earlier this month, we attended a brown bag session at the University of San Francisco, “On the Importance of Naming: Being More Aware about How We Talk about Sexual Assault.” The session was held by professors Annick Wibben and Shawn Doubiago, who head the Women and Violence Research Group at USF.

The discussion focused on the ways language can both oppress and liberate survivors of sexual violence, and thus how important it is that we speak deliberately and carefully about sexual assault.

At a high level, our language can steer conversations in certain directions and towards certain conclusions. We spoke about the problems associated with focusing exclusively on legal definitions or the push to report, which, though valuable, also exclude or potentially trivialize experiences and feelings outside those definitions or that emphasis. Similarly, conversations that focus exclusively on heterosexual, female survivors can marginalize the experiences of survivors who are male, genderqueer, or transgender.

(See Ann Jones’s chilling and, sadly, still-relevant article on how our attitudes towards sexual violence can silence survivors.)

Our language poses similar traps at a more day-to-day level as well. For example, one participant suggested that there is a difference between saying ‘someone has been victimized’ and ‘someone is a victim’. The first acknowledges the violence, but does not make it the defining experience of the person. The second creates an equivalence between “someone” and “victim,” as if the label defines that person’s entire experience.

Indeed, there was considerable discussion around the appropriateness of terms such as victim and survivor. Some participants felt that “victim” could mire a person in a position of disempowerment, while others thought that the term powerfully acknowledged the violence done to them — something “survivor” does not necessarily do. Others floated the combined term “victim/survivor” as one that would allow individuals to self-identify with the term they found most appropriate.

Participants, many of whom were also advocates, shared the language they use to acknowledge the violence without forcing a label on it:

•    “It’s okay to call it this…”
•    “It sounds like…”
•    “What you describe sounds like…”
•    “Other people have called similar experiences…”

The key takeaway was the importance of clearing time and space in our discussions for individuals to express and explore their experiences and feelings without being restricted or limited to one narrative or label. Indeed, as was pointed out, an individual may not even recognize an experience as violent or abusive until long after the attack. Giving people space to rescue their own narratives from a difficult experience empowers them, which can be a liberating experience.

to conclude the session, we talked about ways to help students create their own social scripts to bridge the emotional and physical in relationships, and the healthier narratives we can provide men and women that emphasize the healthy, appropriate, and consensual pleasures of sex.

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Prevention Must Include the LGBTQ Community
Posted by On Monday, November 18, 2013

Recent research suggests that members of the LGBTQ community are just as—if not more—likely to be victims of sexual violence as their heterosexual peers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010 Findingson Victimization by Sexual Orientation found that nearly half of lesbian women, four in ten gay men, half of bisexual men, and three-quarters of bisexual women have been victims of sexual violence in their lifetime. Such alarming figures make it clear that sexual assault is a problem that affects students of all sexual orientations. Moreover, the often marginalized position of the LGBTQ community compounds and complicates numerous issues faced by survivors of sexual assault.

For example, as we’ve written about in the past, it’s not unusual for survivors to be discouraged from reporting by the fear that they will encounter hostility on the part of law enforcement and other first responders. The fear of hostility motivated by homophobia compounds the problem for members of the LGBTQ community. For some LGBTQ survivors, reporting a sexual assault could mean “outing” themselves before they’re prepared to reveal their sexuality. There’s also the fear that, because the conventionally accepted narrative of sexual violence focuses on heterosexual assaults, an assault involving members of the LGBTQ community will be sensationalized.

Another ugly fact is that homophobia not only contributes to underreporting of sexual assault in the LGBTQ community, but can also motivate assaults against members of that community. According to theUniversity of Minnesota Morris Violence Prevention Center, sexual assault is often used as a weapon by those who wish to humiliate LGBTQ people for their sexual orientation, or (especially in cases where a lesbian woman is assaulted by a straight man) somehow “cure” them of their orientation. The unhappy overlap between hate crimes and sexual assault is especially important for administrators to be aware of in light of the Campus SaVE Act’s requirements for schools to include hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity in their annual security reports.

These issues make clear the importance of harm-prevention programming that encompasses the entire spectrum of a campus population. The current conversation about sexual assault on college campuses is, of course, incredibly important and a welcome change from decades of silence on an issue that won’t go away unless it’s addressed directly. But does the conversation campuses are having about sexual violence include all of the students affected by the problem? A conversation about sexual violence on college campuses that revolves around or even assumes scenarios involving heterosexual male perpetrators and heterosexual female victims fails to address the needs of survivors whose experiences fall outside the range of that common but by no means universal experience.

Administrators need to consider programming designed to help all students by covering the unique problems faced by members of the LGBTQ community. By bringing these issues into the conversation, schools encourage students to report sexual assault, regardless of their gender, race, or sexual orientation.  Inclusive and effective prevention training must recognize the grim but important truth that sexual assault can affect any student on campus.

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