Abuse = PTSD = Stress on Physical Health

“You should take better care of yourself,” is only applicable if someone is in control. Exercise, diet, and the sort can only do so much. Genetics also has a lot to do with it. To a survivor, it feels like victim blaming.

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Trigger Warning: I’m in a particularly blunt mood, so here is a warning about topics that may trigger another survivor: PTSD, Sexual Abuse, Suicide, Disease.

One of the ghastly door prizes from childhood sexual assault (CSA) can be summed up into four little letters – PTSD. PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While the abuse is horrific on its own, the long term struggle comes from the effects of PTSD. It’s like the nagging little monster that constantly undermines and holds you back through everything you do while you try to heal and deal with the trauma that happened.  There have been many times over the last 20 years where I was fully convinced that I would be fine and productive if PTSD wasn’t holding me back in some regard.

Mostly, I’ve overcome most of my triggers and mental spirals, but they will still sneak up on me. Most of the issues I have these days involve anxiety and stress over every single action, thought, and perceived slight I may have inflicted on someone. Here is an example of a trigger sneaking up on me. I’m sitting at a coffee shop just typing away and I hear someone talking to their kid about the movie The Lion King. Cool, it’s a great movie. Until the father says Nala, the name of the female cub. My brain goes from my normal functioning fast track of thoughts to being tackled by a abusive linebacker holding me down and shoving awful memories into my mind.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

The man who sexually abused me for almost 4 years called me Nala as a pet name when he was doing his nasty deeds. I proceed to spend the next fifteen minutes trying to fight off memories of abuse, enduring the trial, all the times I was called an attention seeking whore (I was 12 when we started court proceedings), and almost slitting my own throat in a hallway at my high school. Once I surface from the barrage of horror, I quietly pack everything up and go to my car. I’ve shut off all my emotions and most of my perception. Once I make it home, I’m stuck in a mindless fog anywhere for a few hours to the rest of the day. When these triggers don’t happen, I worry almost constantly that I will somehow trigger. In the last 5 years, I went from 3-4 triggering episodes a week to a single episode every couple of weeks, but that means that now I worry about it far more than I used to.

One of the issues of a constant state of high stress, is that it can have negative effects on your health. There are so many studies linking elevated stress (and PTSD specifically) to a decline in health. Here is an excerpt from The National Center for PTSD which is part of Veterans Affairs. They are one of the leading groups in research of PTSD because of the number of soldiers that return home with it.

Two recent studies found that reports of childhood abuse and neglect were related to an increase in physician diagnosed disorders including cancer, ischemic heart disease, and chronic lung disease. It is also likely that a relationship exists between the experience of a trauma and an increase in utilization of medical services for physical health problems. In addition, health care costs have been found to be higher among women who report a history of childhood abuse or neglect than among women who report no history of maltreatment as a child.

Since this a recently discovered association, there hasn’t been much done as far as studies for populations outside of veterans. According to The Refuge:

The lifetime risk for developing PTSD in US adults is 3.5%… The highest rates for PTSD occur among sexual assault survivors, military veterans who have been in combat, and survivors of genocide.

What studies have started to show is that PTSD has been associated with an increased reporting rate of several health issues:

  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Musculoskeletal issues
  • Respiratory Problems
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic Pain
  • Obesity
  • Increased Inflammation
  • Autoimmune Disorders

Which oddly is almost the same list of health issues that results from prolonged exposure to stress. To be fair, there will always be stress and a little stress is necessary to strive in life. But this stress is minimal, and should be about 3-4 on a 10 point scale. Operating at 7-10 for any length at time can be detrimental to health. Stress accomplishes this by causing your body to secrete too many hormones. In a burst, they can do wonders, but long term they tax your organs and body. This also leads to chronic conditions and chronic pain.

Just the anguish from the physical aspect of chronic health issues is enough to make people feel helpless. Something else that makes it worse?

Being blamed for being chronically sick.

Yes, you heard that correctly. I’ve been blamed for my hearing loss – my hearing loss started around age 2-3 and regardless of surgeries, remains. I’ve also been blamed for needing my tonsils removed at 19 after 15 years of repeated cases strep throat and tonsillitis. The phrase “you should take better care of yourself,” is only applicable if someone has a way to control what they are going through. Exercise, diet, and the sort only affects your health to a certain point. Genetics also has a lot to do with it.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

People who have first and second hand knowledge of this are generally more aware of how upsetting a phrase like that can be. Someone who has never seen the effects of abuse may not even realize the connection. To a survivor, it feels like victim blaming.

Long rant aside, this is a friendly reminder that you never know what a person has suffered or survived through. This is a friendly reminder that victim blaming comes in all types of forms. This is also a friendly reminder to try and be more aware of what you say, because every time you speak you have the opportunity to show support or voice blame.

Survivors and victims are every where and we generally try to blend with normal not-traumatized people. Remember 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are CSA survivors. Next time you are in line at a grocery store, at the DMV, or just in a group of people, count how many people could be a CSA survivor.

Saying it Out Loud

Women are taught all the ways to not get assaulted… Let’s ignore the fact that it’s the attackers fault, but we all know the list below is necessary when it really should have to be.

So often I’m with someone I know. Someone I’ve talked to enough to tell them that I was molested as a child. We will already be in the midst of a emotionally charged conversation when I say:

“I was sexually abused as a child.”

There is something about that phrase that will make the nicest people I know verbalize violence against those who hurt me. This last time was a very sweet woman I’ve known for about 3 months and she has never been anything other than kind, but with this reveal, I saw her face and demeanor change in a flash. On one hand you could say it’s because she is a women and we women have to stick together, but I don’t fully agree with that. I’ve known male friends who had the same reaction. Time and time again, I’ve revealed this bit of history about myself and I’ve seen all types of reactions, but I have yet to reveal to someone who didn’t believe me.

Well, aside from when I first spoke out as a child. As an adult, I’ve never be accused of being a lying attention seeking brat or a family destroyer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had negative reactions that leaned towards blaming a 4 year old version of myself for not telling someone sooner. I’ve had to explain to them that these abusers raised me to be complicit in these activities in much the same way that a child will clean their room or eat their vegetables. They don’t want to, they don’t like to, but they do it because an adult they were told to trust by a parent told them they have to do it. As a child, being sexually abused was equivalent to eating my broccoli at dinner. When I explain this to them, I see realization hit their face. Childhood sexual abuse is much more complicated than they expect, and it’s not the same as adult sexual assault.

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Women are taught all the ways to not get assaulted… Let’s ignore the fact that it’s the attackers fault, but we all know the list below is necessary when it really shouldn’t have to be.

  • Don’t drink outside the house
  • Don’t get drunk
  • Don’t do drugs
  • Don’t have sex
  • Don’t let anyone fix you a drink
  • Don’t leave your drink unattended
  • Don’t dress inappropriately
  • Don’t walk inappropriately
  • Don’t tease men
  • Don’t be alone with strangers
  • Don’t walk outside at night
  • Don’t walk alone
  • Don’t wear earbuds or headphones while in public
  • Don’t enter isolated areas
  • Don’t sit in your car in a parking lot
  • Don’t give men the wrong impression
  • Don’t refuse a man’s advances
  • Take self defense classes
  • Stay aware of your surroundings
  • Keep pepper spray on you
  • Hold your keys as a weapon
  • Check inside your car before getting in
  • Stay on the phone when out alone
  • Always walk briskly, confidently, and unencumbered

All of these things are what women are taught so they don’t get sexually assaulted. This shouldn’t even be a thing aside from the fact that most of these only “protect” women from a minuscule percentage of sexual assault situations, not to mention that, and hold on tight here, MEN GET SEXUALLY ASSAULTED TOO! 

The lack of awareness not to mention the lack of appropriate awareness is staggering. Here are some facts that are backed by numbers:

  • You are 3 times more likely to be attacked somewhere you are comfortable instead of walking down the street or sitting in a parking lot. The majority of places where people are assaulted are in their homes, schools, daycare, church, work, and any other place you feel safe.
  • 3 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn 18. Picture that for a moment. In a classroom of first graders, if there are 8 girls, 6 of them will be victims of sexual assault before they are adults.
  • 75-90% of perpetrators accused will never see trial or jail time.
  • Less than 10% of people are falsely accused.

All of this knowledge and fact is based on reports that are estimated only get filed in less than 30% of those who are abused. Let’s thank RAINN for these numbers. Some of the stats I pulled a few years ago before they updated the page and I kept as notes while writing my Memoir.

We are emphasizing the wrong awareness. Instead we should be teaching children how to identify and say no to family members who want to touch them inappropriately. We should be teaching children personal boundaries and it’s okay to say no to an adult if something bad is happening. We should be teaching all young adults responsibility for their actions and the true meaning of consent. We should be teaching people that sexual assault is a horrible crime where victims struggle to survive. Anyone can be sexually assaulted by anyone. No one is automatically immune to sexual assault because of their age, gender, race, orientation, or any other aspect.

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The outrage for victims should be more than something shared between survivors, victims, friends, and family. Outrage for what is happening should be transparent and announced. Telling me that the thought sickens you does no good if you continue to vote, represent, protect, or support a perpetrator. That is just placating me and that is useless. I don’t need people — victims and survivors don’t need to be placated. We need to be heard and we need justice.

D.A.s need to stop dropping charges because it doesn’t seem like a win for them. Bargaining for a plea of guilty shouldn’t be the only way perpetrators end up in jail. Claims of sexual assault are not the victims fault regardless if they did something irresponsible. The person who sexually assaults another person for any reason is to blame and should be punished. When there is almost no threat of punishment, this horrible crime will not stop. Without that, child predators and even adult predators will continue to abuse because even if they are revealed, all they have to do is find a new victim. I’ll say it one more time…

Perpetrators will only stop when they know they will be caught and punished.

Legislation and culture needs to change so that victims are protected instead of perpetrators. Its wrong to sexually assault another human.

If you’ve been sexually assaulted, I believe you. I don’t need to know your story. I don’t need to meet you. I believe and support the various campaigns that have started up to help awareness and survivors.

#startbybelieving