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  • Gary Probst

The Outrage of Improper Counseling for Sexual Assault Victims

Photo courtesy Project Unbreakable

Within just the past two weeks, I have listened to horrific stories about female counselors insulting and minimizing the turmoil and pain of sexual assault victims. One patient told me her past therapist called her a baby and to “grow up”, because she was having anxiety attacks and social fears in her forties. Her assault was in her teenage years.

Another young woman told me of a therapist telling her she didn’t seem depressed and was fine. Fine?

I’m afraid there is never a state of being “fine” for somebody who has been brutally assaulted. After leaving that therapist, this person spent weeks with suicidal ideations. Does that sound, “fine”?

Sex crimes, be they vicious and violent attacks by strangers (or even family members) or molestation by a family member or trusted authority figure, cause lifelong damage to a person’s sense of wellness. They also cause an association disorder called transference, which operates from the back brain, instinctual part of the victim’s neurological complex. This often shows itself through feelings of anger or frustration with the man or woman closest to them, even though that person is not the attacker or anything like the attacker. Often, sexual pleasure evades the victim, male or female, as they never feel safe with being vulnerable. The brain rewires itself through the trauma to deal with anticipated future danger. Rumination of the terror builds pathways in the brain that create a heightened state of fear, thus, causing grave anxiety.

Often sexual assault victims will play out their anxiety with an obsession. They will either have mental obsessions or they will have physical repetitive motions, such as wringing of the hands, a nervous tic or continual cleaning and organizing, as they feel nothing is ever quite right in the world.

Victims of sex crimes, even if not extremely violent, mainly suffer from PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is the brain’s hectic attempt to put things back in place and make sense of an insane experience, such as a shooting incident, war, a brutal beating or rape. Police officers and soldiers have to deal with it. Sexual assault victims or shooting or stabbing victims also do.

Sometimes an antidepressant that leans toward anxiety reduction can help. Paxil is often used. However, some sexual assault victims report increased agitation on SSRI’s and a feeling of being “out of body”. I often see drugs like Ativan prescribed, but that class of drug is potentially addictive and can require higher and higher dosages to maintain the desired result. That result is mostly a numbing, not of healing. It provides a mask of temporary relief.

The true healing for this disorder comes from communication. It is important that victims find the strength to talk about the attack with spouses and other family and close friends. Not talking about the assault leaves the victim in a very dark and hollow place. Often the partner will notice a cooling of sexual relationships and then wonder what is wrong. Tension will build between the victim and the unknowing partner. The partner will feel rejected and scorned. Nothing good comes of that situation.

Transference creates a climate where the victim begins to resent the partner. The smallest of slights or offenses can drive the victim to react in a highly-angered fashion toward the partner, even to the level of physical violence. When the partner does not understand the causation of the anger and transference, the partner makes assumptions that are incorrect and damaging to the relationship. Tension grows. Anger thrives. Eventual loathing, based on non-disclosed reasons, poisons the relationship.

Often anniversaries of the assault or appearance changes with the person being subjected to transference will amplify the negativity. The change of thought can come on suddenly, due to a trigger for the victim. This can leave a partner reeling in confusion. Communication is the answer, even though it may be painful.

Far too often, sexual assault victims feel a deep shame. That is not logical, as it is called assault for a reason. The motivation of the attacker is often self-hatred or psychosis. There is absolutely nothing sexual about a sexual assault. It is all about control. In fact, a rapist will seek out a less attractive woman if she has the markers of vulnerability they are looking for. I’m sorry to say, ladies who prefer longer hair, that rapists do target women with longer hair, as it is a barbaric tool to pull down or drag away a woman for continuation of the assault. Rape is hate. Pure and simple, rape has nothing to do with what a woman is wearing, where she walks or visits, how she acts---nothing—other than she has the misfortune to know or run into a predator. The same goes for men. This is why the myth of gay men being prone to rape children is absurd. Rape has nothing to do with sexual preference. It has everything to do with hatred and a desire to inflict pain—to destroy something beautiful, out of anger and self-loathing.

Helping the victim to understand transference can go a long way toward improving their quality of life. Helping them, as their advocate, to challenge thoughts about shame and stick up for them against negative thoughts, is vital. This can be from a counselor or family. It honestly should come from the partner but the partner needs to know. Any partner who judges and shames the person disclosing the attack is hardly worth the relationship. Most people understand and care enough to do whatever they can to help the victim. That’s how rational human beings are.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, or a partner dealing with the pain of being subjected to transference, I can help. If you prefer a female counselor, I have two women I greatly respect and can refer you to. The key is communication. The survivor needs to feel safe again. Only communication can make that happen, along with sincerity—and love.

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