The role of a rape victim is to work every day until he or she becomes a survivor. Society is ready to assign many tasks to a person who has experienced a traumatic event, forcing them to cope alone with the stripping of their dignity, self-confidence, and trust in other people. Rape happens more often than we would think, and yet it is still a problematic topic for the public, who would often debate, rather than condemn it. Victims of rape and abuse are hurt once by their assailant, and once again, by a system seemingly incapable of coherently assigning fault.
In order to address victims and their pain, we must try to understand what happens in the brain of a person who has been affected by trauma. The development of brain scan technology has allowed scientists to observe the structure, function, and changes that happen after traumatic events. There is a general consensus that trauma can change the way the brain works, creating chaos and confusion, and people with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) experience a disruption of the state of equilibrium that would otherwise revert to a normal state. Put in other words, victims of sexual assault suffer a long-lasting impact that affects their nervous systems, triggering responses such as anxiety, chronic pain, and memory lapses, among other symptoms.
It is already hard to cope with all the distress caused by a traumatic event, but what is even more daunting is to face a society that does not allow people with PTSD to process their grief and to make sense of this new condition forced onto them. The recent case of the Stanford sexual assault is a proof of this attitude. Brock Turner´s victim was forced to repeat over and over again every single detail of her assault, as if to prove it really happened. Our societies need to let victims know that the circumstances of the violence they suffered do not matter, and that the burden of proof or responsibility is not on them.
We often forget about these cases after a couple of months, and do not process the impact they have on our memory. Every day, other women and men are victims of a similar assault, and every day they need to combat the old forces blaming the victim. Pain and suffering are not circumstantial; victims should not recreate the setting of their abuse, in order to defend themselves in yet another abusive situation.
As members of societies that constantly fail to offer appropriate support for this type of suffering, we must ask ourselves whether we follow timeless values and principles we accept to be universally ethical. With every scandalous assault, we fall into a perverted, voyeuristic state when we see novelty, rather than repetition, when we seem to have forgotten that it happened before. Public opinion, through the structures of both connective and traditional media, shadows an often labyrinthine legal system, that struggles to understand and affirm what is almost always clear: that the victim is a victim, and the aggressor an aggressor.
Words: Astrid Scheuermann
Copied edited by Elena Stanciu