Friday, November 4, 2011

Trauma, trauma...trauma?

It's been pretty difficult recently to stay present in class. My mind tends to wonder back to college, still analyzing what happened and why I feel the way I do. I think in order for me to put this behind me, there are still things regarding that night and time in my life that I need to figure out.

One thing that has always run through my mind is why was that night so traumatic to me. It wasn't like I was beaten. I didn't catch an STD. And luckily I was on the pill for non-birth control purposes. What was it about my sexual assault that was so traumatic? Why did I feel like a different person? What was it exactly that left me feeling so violated and dirty and used?

I'm not referring to the logical answer in terms of the definition of consent and rape. I can rationalize that (A) he knew my boundaries and that I was a virgin and (B) I was far too intoxicated to give consent.  Yes, that's reason enough to feel violated, dirty, and used but you don't wake up the next morning after sexual assault happens thinking in terms of A + B = C.  You are left with an empty feeling, images you'd prefer to erase, and your own thoughts that search for evidence that you're the one to blame, not the perpetrator.

During my semester off, more memories from that night started to resurface. Although I had longed to remember exactly what happened, the more I remembered, the more depressed I got. What was it about those memories, those visual images, that left me feeling so depressed and empty?

I think I gained a little clarity regarding this issue during my Autism class today. The topic of the guest lecturer's presentation was obviously not sexual assault. He was talking about what constitutes communication. For example, when a child merely reaches for a glass of milk but doesn't make eye contact with another human being, it is likely that the child is not intentionally communicating that he wants the milk. However, if the child reaches for the glass of milk and looks up at the bystander, he is likely intending to communicate that he needs help getting the milk. The lecturer noted a study that looked at children who were typically developing versus children that had a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Although the two groups did not differ in how often they sought the help of an adult bystander, the way they interacted with the bystander greatly differed. For example, the children with ASD tended to use the adult's hand as a tool - that is, the child would go to the adult, grab their wrist and walk over to the door knob, placing the adult's hand on the door knob, never making eye contact. The children without the ASD diagnosis also sought the help of the adult, but using eye contact and establishing joint attention, they pointed to the door or something similar. There was the observable acknowledgment that a request was being made to another human being. The guest lecturer commented that although the children with ASD are likely interacting with their parents as much as other children, the lack of intent to communicate - to connect with others - is very difficult for parents of children with ASD to cope with.

I am not in any form or fashion trying to compare children with ASD to rapists. Absolutely not. The lecture just got me thinking about the importance of intent in human interactions. Two actions can resemble each other on the surface, but the intent behind the action is what's meaningful to us.

For example, if you strip down sex to a purely physical act, my sexual assault shouldn't have been so traumatic. The mechanics of what took place very closely resembled consensual sex. However, there were small differences in the physical act that had huge implications in terms of intent. 

I tried to convince myself that it was one big misunderstanding. but the visual memories that resurfaced could not hide the truth. There were no signs of his intent to involve me as a human being in the act that was taking place. There was no eye contact. He hovered over my body away from my face so as to avoid any more physical intimacy than was needed to do what he wanted. Also I suspect that it was also to disguise what was to come. 

Sure, I can compare the facts of the night to the definition of rape and classify what happened as rape, but that's not what plagues me. It's the vision and knowledge of having been a means to an end that is painful. Of not being involved in an act that I considered an ultimate sharing of oneself with another. The very act that I had postponed and planned to use to communicate my love to another.

I cannot go back in time and change what happened. I can only hope that by making sense of what took place and its impact on me, I can process it and move on. 


  1. I am sorry you have been having so much difficulty concentrating in class. I most certainly understand that feeling.

    I agree that although a sexual assault is a physical assault on the surface, it's a deeper emotional assault on the inside.

    I kinda wonder if there's a connection between rapists and ASD. I don't mean to imply that those with ASD are potential rapists, but rather that rapists probably have ASD.

    It seems to me being that there's an emotional disconnect and objectification of others by those with ASD that rapists could have that disorder. As a child will use an adults hand as a tool, a rapist may use there victim as a tool.

    I totally understand your next to last paragraph. It's the removal of choice that feels so insulting, the violation of will.

    I'm sorry about what happened and the bad way it makes you feel. (((HUG)))

  2. I think you're on to something regarding rapists having an emotional disconnection, but I think the etiology is different between the social issues of someone with autism and that of a rapists. Individuals with ASD struggle to understand pragmatics (social issues, reading facial expressions, understanding voice inflection, etc.). Someone with ASD might walk into a cafeteria and be completely overwhelmed and have no idea how to assess the situation (whereas it would take us seconds). There is a huge spectrum to ASD, so there's a lot of diversity in symptom expression but the main deficits are in communication and social awareness.

    I think rapists might be better classified as having narcissistic personality disorder (lack of empathy, feelings of entitlement, etc.) or antisocial personality disorder (violation of the rights of others). Are you familiar with these disorders? I think that my perpetrator could have narcissistic personality disorder as I remember his best friend telling me in high school that it was strange that they were best friends but he never saw A get upset and he still did not feel like he knew A. People with narcissistic disorder are often quite successful in work because they can be charming and since they don't worry about the feelings of others, they can force there way up the ladder. I recently saw a study on this - I'll try to find it and email it to you, if you're interested.

    Thanks for the support :)

  3. I think most anti social disorders rather it be ASD, narcissistic personality disorder, or antisocial personality disorder are sort of the same. I think it's simply the symptoms that different. I would also throw Asperger syndrome into the mix.

    I think sometimes these things get falsely categorized as separate things because the symptoms are different. What if the disease is the same but the symptoms are affected by the individual? I think when it comes down to it they are all a developmental problem with in the brain, but the brain and consciousness is more than just hardware. Our personality that starts to develop at the moment life begins is the software. The software simply interprets the brains functions differently based on personality.

    Now that's a rambling. LOL So totally speculative and based off of absolutely nothing. ahah I'm so tired haha

    Yeah email that study to me please. Like I said I like to learn. Yes I'm a nerd.