“Its really bad she had to go through the harassment and relive it in the court of law. But somewhere she had it coming! Why did she have to stay there so late? What do you expect when you hang out with so many guys?!”
And the comments go on like a litany.
STOP! DON’T shame the victim! DON’T undermine their stories of tryst! DON’T feed their doubts about the self!
They’ve had enough, dealt with enough! Don’t burden them with your views of righteousness. Sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault or sexual violence in any form often registers as a trauma for the survivor. It has a tremendous emotional , psychological and physical impact which is difficult to deal with, leading to an overwhelmed state of mind.
The immediate effect of sexual violations or violence is reflected in the extreme emotional reactions of intense fear, helplessness and horror. As these emotions wane, acute feelings of sadness, shame, or guilt may take their place. A train of alternative scenarios of ‘what could have been’ runs across their mind at breakneck speed, often leading to self-blaming cognitions (If only I had…..). These distressing thoughts may result in a debilitating stress reaction where the individual may relive the trauma over and over through flashbacks or nightmares, often manifesting in stark signs of clinically significant anxiety or depressive symptoms.
Problems in emotion regulation may escalate in behaviours to the extent of deliberately harming self to ease the psychological pain, having suicidal ideations or making actual attempts. Behaviourally, the person may experience sleep disturbances on account of the nightmares. They may withdraw and go into a shell due to their inability to deal with one’s own emotions. They may lose confidence to engage in constructive tasks, thereby adversely affecting their self esteem. They are more likely to see themselves in a negative light and keep finding faults and flaws within. Also, they may struggle with body image issues due to the afflictions suffered by them.
Close relationships are also hampered. The survivors may socially isolate themselves, anticipating greater negative social interactions. This distrust of others may lead to strained interpersonal relationships as seen by marital conflict, commitment issues or fear of intimacy. They are less likely to open up in social settings and may appear distant and indifferent towards maintaining meaningful relationships. They may perceive rather neutral situations as being threatening or demeaning on account of a lowered threshold or sensitivity to being judged.
Sexual harassment or violence also impacts the individual at the physical level, not just in terms of the wounds inflicted but also somatically. An individual may suffer from acute headache, nausea, appetite disturbances leading to noticeable weight gain or loss, palpitations as a result of extreme anxiety, etc. It may also lead to sexual problems and problems in interpersonal intimacy.
To sum it up, it has a cumulative demoralizing effect that discourages women from being themselves and asserting themselves. Dealing with the aftermath of sexual violence is extremely consuming, but social support and adaptive coping strategies tend to help resolve the acute disturbance over time.
If you would like to share your experience or would like to know more about the ways in which you can deal with the aftermath of this trauma, contact us on…
By Ms. Asmita Dalvi