I recently watched the Netflix series Unbelievable. I was instantly sucked in by the first episode. Not because of the acting. Not because of the production. It was because I was finally watching a show portray the reality of a rape investigation.
Three out of four women will not report a rape. Not because they fear retaliation by their rapist, but because they fear the process. As you watch this first episode you see what actually happens when a woman courageously reports her rape.
You see her relive it in the visit to the hospital, where she is subjected to pictures and physical examination. You see her relive the trauma as she shares the assault that occurred. Then shares it again. And again. And yet again.
And then you see her start to close off as detectives begin to question her story. Because details may change. Or she may not recall something she shared previously.
Until everyone in the process (from the initial investigating officer to the nurse at the hospital doing the rape kit to the attorney and judge involved in the case) sees how trauma affects the brain we will never erase the culture of exploitation that is so prevalent.
Studies show that trauma has a very significant effect on the brain. It causes the victim to remember some things and forget others. It affects the ability to place key events in the right time frame. I won’t go into all of the details of this but you can learn more in this blog written by Jim Hopper, an expert on psychological trauma, including sexual assault and traumatic memories.
So what does all this have to do with sexual exploitation? The psychological trauma to the brain affects the victim’s ability to identify risky situations. They often cannot see how a relationship is not healthy. Or how a particular situation will put them at risk. As a result, victims of sexual assault are significantly more vulnerable to exploitation.
So what can you do? Ensure there is education and training for law enforcement and healthcare providers as they work with a victim reporting a rape. Educate yourself on the effects of trauma related to sexual assault. Advocate for the victims.
-Tanya Pearrell, Director of Development