Tag Archives: Rape

Anxiety, Phobias, and PTSD – Part 1

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch (1893), National Gallery, Norway (Accession No. NG.M.00939), Source WebMuseum (PD)

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea
…” (Ps. 46: 1-2).

Most people have experienced anxiety, in one situation or another.

The death of a loved one, divorce, serious illness, job loss, and moving are recognized as major stressors [1].  Other anxiety producing occasions include public speaking (always a favorite), waiting on approval for a mortgage, meeting a girlfriend’s parents for the first time, and having the in-laws over for Thanksgiving.

Then, of course, there are a host of phobias.  As a general rule narrowly focused, phobias are no small matter for those suffering from them.  Phobias include the fear of heights, spiders, snakes, birds, tight spaces, bridges, flying, and blood [2].

Purpose of Anxiety

Anxiety is intended to alert us to potential danger, and prepare the body for it.

A part of the brain called the amygdala releases neuro-transmitters that initiate the so called “fight of flight” response, producing the sensations of anxiety [3].  The heart rate climbs; blood rushes to the muscles; the lungs work harder.  This process is largely autonomic.  We have, by design, very limited control.

For most, the panic associated with stressful situations quickly subsides.  Shallow breathing deepens and slows.  Rapid heartbeat subsides.

The audience does or does not throw tomatoes.  The in-laws smile or grimace – it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference – and swallow their turkey.  We eventually get the mortgage.

In short, the body figures out we are going to survive.

Anxiety Disorders

About 40 million Americans, however, suffer from anxiety disorders [4].  Severe anxiety, whatever form it takes, is debilitating and can be crippling.

A. PTSD

The severe anxiety resulting from traumas such war, rape, or child abuse is better known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) [5].

Whatever its origin, PTSD can cause recurrent, powerful, panic attacks, with or without an identifiable trigger.  These attacks are typically accompanied by heart palpitations, chest pain, the sensation of being smothered, and a feeling of dread.  A panic attack can, also, be experienced as paralysis and overwhelming fear.

PTSD sufferers may, in addition, experience flashbacks (vivid and disturbing memories, re-experienced involuntarily).  I have discussed these elsewhere [6]. Continue reading

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Cosby

A Pennsylvania judge has ordered Bill Cosby to proceed to trial on the sexual assault charges by Andrea Constand [1].  Like some 50 other women, Constand maintains that she was drugged against her will by Cosby, and unable to protest when he had sex with her.

The civil case by Constand was settled years ago.  Cosby subsequently sued Constand for return of the settlement moneys she received, alleging that she violated a Confidentiality Agreement.

The statute of limitations has run on the numerous other claims against the 78 y.o. comedian, who has been free on $1 million bail since his arrest in December.

What Cosby Lost

Without an adjudication, it is impossible to say with certainty whether the claims being made against Bill Cosby are true.  Under the American system of justice, of course, defendants are innocent till proven guilty.

That so many women have come forward (albeit belatedly) tends to suggest that at least some of the claims are likely to be true.

Either way, Cosby’s reputation is in tatters.  He has though led a long and illustrious life, while the women making claims against him have wrestled with their demons for decades.

What Fans Lost

Bill Cosby’s reputation will be forever clouded by these accusations.  The many fans who looked up to Cosby have lost a role model.  That is not insignificant.

“The Cosby Show” ran for nearly 10 years.  Cosby as Dr. Cliff Huxtable presented Americans with the image of an intelligent, urbane, and successful black man.  That was in sharp contrast with earlier media images of African American men as ignorant shiftless clowns and violent thugs.

Why Victims Waited

It is difficult for the average person to understand why seemingly intelligent, articulate, and capable women would not have pursued their claims of rape in a timely manner.  Some did make an attempt to report the crime, but were discouraged or ignored outright. Continue reading

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Falling Knives, Part 2

“Self-Injury Awareness Day – Open Your Eyes. Open Your Heart.” Photo by AndyCandy94 (CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication).

And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5: 5) [1].

For many abuse victims, assaults on ourselves are more than an emotional echo of earlier trauma, more than metaphorical.

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI)

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury or NSSI (commonly known as “cutting”) is generally viewed as an attempt to deal with emotional pain [2]. Estimates suggest that as many as 14% of teens engage in cutting, at one time or another [3].  But adults are not immune.

In sexual molestation and rape, the violation involves the body. Therefore, the body becomes the “enemy”. Self-inflicted injury is one way this can manifest. But negative feelings ranging from loneliness, worthlessness, and shame to stress, rage, and racing thoughts may prompt the same behavior [4]. Continue reading

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Kidnapped by Boko Haram

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent…
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.”

– “Meditation XVII” by John Donne (1624)

WARNING: Graphic Images

The extremist group Boko Haram has since 2009 led a brutal insurgency in Nigeria with the twin goals of imposing Sharia law and establishing an Islamic regime. Boko Haram is known to utilize child soldiers; engage in the forced conversion, castration, and beheading of non-Muslim men and boys, as well as the kidnap, rape, and forced marriage of women and girls.

Mary Patrick was one of 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 [1]. The horrors she faced during four months of captivity included cannibalism, the murder of her older sister, and repeated rape by as many as five men at a time.

Given a Muslim name and forced to recite verses from the Quran, over and over, Mary began to lose her identity. Thankfully, she managed to escape before it was too late.

Why the World Matters

Why should this matter to American women? Why should it matter to abuse victims, in particular?

Many abuse victims are likewise brutalized. This tends to focus our attention inward, on short-term survival. But there is a great deal of pain in the world…not ours alone. The girls kidnapped by Boko Haram are just one example.

Abuse victims understand pain. That others, too, have suffered should not demoralize us. Rather, it should motivate us to reach out to one another.

Isolated by abuse though we have been, we are part of the world. We have a responsibility toward the world. And the exercise of that responsibility may actually prove healing to us.

Connection

During the Middle Ages, the bubonic plague or “Black Death” as it was known killed an estimated 75-200 million men, women, and children.

The dead grew so numerous that mass graves had to be dug. Venice and other cities banned the ringing of church bells during funeral processions. The sound was thought to discourage the living.

During one outbreak, the poet and clergyman, John Donne, wrote that no man is an island. We are all connected. That is how Christians see things or should. We are connected to one another – whether abuse victims, plague victims, or the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

Leaving the Past Behind

No one can blame victims for seeking to forget their experience of abuse. We long to blot abuse off the face of the earth, and rightly so.

Unfortunately, much as we may desire to leave the past behind, we are often bombarded with unwelcome reminders of it [2]. The ongoing barrage of triggers can feel like defeat; the flashbacks, like daily fresh wounds in a war that has gone on for years [3]. We simply cannot move beyond the pain.

While recovery is not a matter of will power, confronting our demons may help us cut them down to size [4]. And using our experience to benefit others can give meaning to our suffering.

Outward toward the World

If we can manage to direct our attention outward toward the world, we may find that what we have suffered has actually increased our empathy for the suffering of others. Their suffering is personal for us, not merely political.

In turn, they may have lessons they can share with us.

Amazingly, Mary Patrick says that her captivity strengthened her faith. “Before, I didn’t go to church, I didn’t read [the] Bible, I didn’t pray. But now I go to church everyday…I am thankful for my life.”

[1] See, Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter, “Trained to Kill – Learning to Forgive”, August 2015.

[2] Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is frequently accompanied by intense flashes of memory. These flashbacks are triggered by sounds, smells, people, places, thoughts, and feelings which call to mind the traumatic event. Flashbacks can cause physical and emotional reactions, including a racing heartbeat, muscle tension, and profuse sweating.

[3] Coping strategies for dealing with triggers include deep breathing, mindfulness/grounding techniques, exercise, relaxation and self-care, writing, art, music, and prayer. The support of friends and loved ones can be extremely valuable.

[4] Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Collection, “Prolonged Exposure vs. Supportive Counseling for Sexual Abuse-Related PTSD in Adolescent Girls: A Randomized Clinical Trial” by Edna Foa PhD, Carmen McLean PhD, Sandra Capaldi PsyD, et al, 12/25/13, http://jama.jamanetwork.com/collection.aspx?categoryid=5862.

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Time and the Value of Women

“Sales in Poznan”, Author MOs810 (CC-BY-SA-3.0 Unported)

‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ ” (Eccl. 1: 2).

Clearly, women in Western culture are valued for their youth. We see this all around us.

Ads for every conceivable product from liquor to cable television feature young women (with two ton steel vehicles actually termed “sexy” to increase sales).

Then there are the countless products marketed to women for the ever present “problem” of aging (creams which claim rejuvenating power, hair dyes, Botox injections, and breast implants, to name just a few).  As if living were insufficient.

Starlets in flimsy clothing populate our magazines. Girls as young as 14 model for us, in the place of adult women. Meanwhile, women in their 60s seek plastic surgery – even in vitro fertilization – to prolong their saleability.

Each moment lived, a woman’s value decreases or so it can seem.

A Flight from Death

Perhaps the urge to remain young, or at least appear young, is a flight from death. If anything, however, it highlights the inexorability of time. The race is rigged. Everyone loses in the end.

Christians know that this jaded view is incorrect, incomplete since it fails to take God into account. Some 3000 years ago, when King Solomon composed the Book of Ecclesiastes (from which the quote above is taken), he deliberately wrote from that skewed perspective to drive home his point about the need for God in our lives.

Human nature has not improved much, in the intervening centuries. We remain susceptible to the adversary’s lies.

True Value

But if youth is valuable, maturity is no less so. Our value in God’s eyes does not diminish with age. It was never linked to time, in the first place. Our true value derives from the fact that we have all, male and female, been created by God and that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for our Salvation. Continue reading

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The Dysfunctional Lawyer, Part 1

“The Cry of Justice” by Frank Varley
Auckland Punch Magazine (1868)

“‘Let us choose justice for ourselves…'” (Job 34: 4).

It takes great courage to flee an abusive relationship, and confront an abuser.

While criminal matters are generally handled through the District Attorney’s Office on the state level and the US Attorney’s Office on the federal level, abuse victims seeking divorce or money damages for their pain and suffering will need to pursue civil litigation.

Civil lawyers can be found who specialize in victims’ rights following rape, child abuse, domestic abuse, elder abuse, clergy abuse, and sexual harassment.

A good lawyer can help restore the abuse victim’s life. A dysfunctional lawyer (or a dysfunctional relationship with an otherwise good lawyer) can delay the process, undermining an abuse victim’s already tenuous confidence.

Abuse Victims as Clients

Abuse victims deserve a dedicated advocate: someone whose honesty is above reproach, who will be diligent in pursuing their case, who will communicate on all critical matters, and whose legal judgment can be relied upon as sound.

Fortunately, there are many lawyers meeting these criteria.

A. Cost

Cost is likely to be the first criteria abuse victims consider, in choosing a lawyer.

Personal injury litigation is usually taken on a contingency basis, for a percentage of the ultimate recovery. What that percentage can be differs somewhat from state to state. Thirty percent for the lawyer is typical.

The legal fees in other types of cases, for example divorce or bankruptcy, are usually calculated on an hourly basis. This can be a challenge for abuse victims, who may not have much in the way of funds.

Legal aid is available across the country, but the types of civil cases covered will vary. Abuse victims should check with their local offices.

Victims organizations like WomensLaw.org and RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) can be a good source of information. Most bar associations will, also, have referral services with lists of lawyers in various specialties. Often an initial consultation will be free or at a reduced rate.

B. Credentials

Thousands upon thousands of lawyers advertise, online and elsewhere. Whatever claims may be made in ads, victims should remember that lawyers are not superhuman, and that a verdict awarding money damages in their favor (particularly a large amount) is not guaranteed.

Since a lawyer can be instrumental in improving a client’s circumstances, the lawyer’s credentials should be carefully scrutinized, in the same way one might review the credentials of a physician.

Abuse victims will find lawyer ratings available online, but should not rely exclusively on these. Many fine lawyers are never rated. The recommendation of a friend can be as valuable.

C. Questions

For their own well-being, abuse victims should speak up. Continue reading

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One In Every Five

  • Six young men, ages 16 to 18, were recently accused of the gang rape of a fellow high school student in Florida [1]. The sexual assault occurred after school. The underage victim was convinced to accompany her assailants into a wooded area. When the intentions of the group became clear, the victim attempted to leave, but was prevented. Some are publicly defending the assailants on Twitter.

There is a rape every 6.2 minutes in the United States; one in five women in this country is likely to be raped in her lifetime [2][3]. Because rape is under-reported, the figures may be higher. Eighty three year old women have been raped, as have four year olds.

The United States does not separately collect data on gang rapes. It is estimated, however, that 25% of all rapes are gang rapes [4]. These are almost always premeditated [6][7].

A 2013 report on rape and gang rape in the medical journal, The Lancet Global Health, listed entertainment, sexual entitlement, and punishment of the victim among the motives given [5]. Associated factors often include alcohol, poverty, “proof” of heterosexual prowess, a need for dominance over women, gang-related activity, and a history of child abuse. Continue reading

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Overcoming the World, Part 1 – Fame and Systemic Abuse

What a world it has become.  Headlines scream off the page at us:

Parents Arrested After Allegedly Forcing Girl, 5, to OD on Soda [1].

Doctor convicted of endangering stepdaughter in “waterboarding” Trial[2].

Couple Arrested for Enslaving Teen Girl[3].

FAME

Certainly, fame and affluence do not assure the safety of children.  Melvin Morse – the doctor mentioned above – had appeared on “Oprah” and “Good Morning America”. Fame may, in fact, foster a sense of entitlement on the part of some predators. They come to believe the prohibition against abuse is for lesser mortals.

And fame seems to provide an exemption of sorts from basic standards of morality.

Woody Allen’s adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, continues to maintain that the filmmaker sexually assaulted her, some two decades ago [4]. Allen was never prosecuted [5A] [5B].

Woody Allen, you may remember, was, also, involved sexually with Soon-Yi Previn, 35 years his junior. Soon-Yi (whom Allen later married) was another adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, a woman with whom Allen had a longterm relationship. Allen has been quoted as saying, “What was the scandal?…There was no scandal…” [6].

Overseas, BBC star Jimmy Savile was repeatedly investigated, but never prosecuted either. Only after his death was it revealed that Savile had abused a staggering 400 children or more, often while they were hospital patients [7].  The possibility of a wider British pedophile ring with influential members protected from prosecution is still being explored.

The California trial of ex-football player Darren Sharper for rape should be instructive. Sharper is under investigation for a total of seven rapes in four states [8]. Assuming the allegations against him to be true, Sharper felt no compunction about drugging women in order to have sex with them.

SYSTEMIC ABUSE

Systemic abuse may be even more appalling. The public is by now familiar with the Catholic Church sex scandal. In “Secrets of the Vatican,” the investigative program, Frontline, recently exposed the culture of corruption which allowed sexual perversion to flourish [9]. But the Catholic Church is not alone in this.

Continue reading

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Depravity

“ ‘…[W]e will destroy this place, because the outcry against them has grown great before the face of the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it’ ” (Genesis 19: 13).

The Bible story of Lot is a difficult one.  The issue of whether Sodom and Gomorrah were condemned for homosexual behavior has been the subject of intense debate [1].

Some have argued that the sin which brought destruction down on the cities of the plain was a lack of hospitality toward strangers – intolerable in desert regions, as it would have placed lives at risk.  Others have been outraged by the treatment of Lot’s virgin daughters, offered to the crowd in place of the strangers under Lot’s protection.  They maintain, therefore, that the sin was rape.

Whichever interpretation we believe is correct, we should be able to agree that the story indicates there is a tipping point, a level of depravity a just God will not tolerate.

Consider these recent news stories, and what they reflect about our own society:

• In Spain, a soccer coach was arrested after a burglar broke into his home. Searching for valuables, the thief uncovered video of child sexual abuse he then turned over to police. The coach had used his status to gain access to vulnerable victims. One girl had been molested for six years, from the age of 10 onward.

• A former emergency room physician, Ali Salim, pled guilty in Ohio to involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of a 23 y.o. expectant mother and her unborn child.  Salim, also, pled no contest to a charge of rape. The woman had turned to prostitution after a divorce, when unable to support her two young children.  The prosecution alleged that Salim administered a fatal overdose of heroin to her, then failed to provide medical assistance.  Salim had a history of supplying drugs to sex partners – often addicted prostitutes – obtained on Craigslist. Graphic video exists of Salim engaged in acts so obscene the video will be disposed of once the criminal and civil cases against Salim have been concluded.

• The World Privacy Forum has uncovered a practice by consumer data companies of collecting highly sensitive information, then selling it to marketers with little or no regard for the consequences. Lists are known to have been compiled of AIDs patients, dementia patients, rape victims, and police officers with their home addresses [2]. All this for the sake of profit.

Surely, this is depravity. Men and women of conscience cannot help but be appalled. And these are not isolated incidents. Which begs the question: What are we to do in the face of evil?

British philosopher, Edmund Burke, warned that, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” [3]. We must stand up and be counted. We must speak up for what we believe is right…even when to do so is uncomfortable and unpopular.

Even a burglar knew that.

[1] The story of Lot is not a justification for anti-LGBT violence, under any interpretation.

[2] At present, consumer information is only shielded from disclosure if it is used for employment, credit, housing, or insurance purposes. Data brokers, for instance, can readily access details such as the over-the-counter drugs purchased by consumers.

[3] There is some dispute as to the precise origin of this phrase.

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Not Democracy

Then Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her robe of many colors that was on her, and laid her hand on her head and went away crying bitterly” (2 Sam. 13: 19).

For those who may not be familiar with the Bible story, Tamar, a daughter of King David, was raped by her brother, Amnon.  She was denied justice.

Not a great deal of progress has been made in the Middle East since then.  Over 180 rapes have taken place in Tahrir Square while the world watches.  The possibility of justice for these victims remains remote.

As many as 30 to 100 men will isolate a woman, then violate her with their hands, literally tearing the clothing off her back.  Women may be beaten with chains, chairs, and other objects while being raped.  The genitals of some women have been cut.

Public violence against women has been a problem in Egypt before.  Foreign journalists, including Lara Logan and Sonia Dridi, have been assaulted and raped.  Even more disturbing perhaps, a UN survey on gender equality reported that 99% of the Egyptian women responding had been subjected to some form of sexual violence in their lives.

The message being sent is that women have no place outside the home.

A large part of the problem is the fact that sexual abuse is not a crime in Egypt.  Sexual violence may be committed without fear of reprisal.  Police treat rape victims as if they were the culpable party.

Tahrir Square is no Tiananmen Square.  Whatever else the protests ongoing in Tahrir Square may be, they are certainly not democracy, and should not be mistaken for some fledgling version of it.   We should not delude ourselves.

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