A Reflection on Nonconsensual Sex and Silence

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A Reflection on Non-consensual Sex, Trauma, and Silence

When we experience a trauma, particularly an interpersonal one, we are often left without words to describe our experience. When our body boundary, our sense of self, is overtaken by another, our sympathetic nervous system automatically reacts into fight, flight, or freeze. As Peter Levine expresses so well, we can look to the animal kingdom to witness how, when fight or flight seems no longer possible, the only escape is to freeze or play dead. However, once danger/having been overtaken (or having been about to have been overtaken) passes, the animal’s body trembles and shakes and this serves as a release and a return to health and strength. When human beings freeze, they often dissociate emotionally as well. It is actually quite a masterful way of protecting oneself in the moment. However, without release and safe, coherent expression, the disequilibrium continues and builds on itself. It can be difficult to easefully access the feelings that were present at the moment of non-consensual sex (trauma) or to reflect with any sense of coherency after the fact. In addition, it has been shown over and over that there is a strong tendency to blame oneself for not running or fighting or speaking up in the moment (or if one did speak up, berating oneself for not having done so loud enough or clear enough to stop the offense—or, if after having been courageous enough to have shared what happened, to have been dismissed or invalidated for having done so). More blame is added on if substances were involved with self-berating inner statements. What started out as a very unfortunate event often turns into an inner narrative of self-blame and an unnamable experience of shame. It is insensitive to question why people did not bring voice to their sexual assault experiences earlier.

Social psychologists refer to Self-Discrepancy Theory as a form of social cognition that seeks to make sense out of behavior that is contradictory to one’s own self-guidance, resulting in inner emotional conflict and sometimes in behavior that reduces the dissonance and thus perpetuates violence against the self. When one blames oneself for having been violated, one can lose connection with a spiritual anchor and live without self-compassion and authenticity, resulting in more and more emotional conflict and sometimes in behavior that reduces the dissonance and thus perpetuates going against one’s true nature. It can take years for people to actually realize what is occurring.

There are so many anecdotal stories from the entertainment industry that contribute to such feelings of loss of hope, low self-worth, and trust gone awry. Just one example: a young woman, working to help support her family financially, who does not have a car or enough money for a cab is dropped off by a friend to an audition and invited to dinner with a promise of a ride home only to find herself drugged and trapped with a man all night in his home 150 miles from where she lives. People have described a sort of hidden sub-culture where the premeditated ploy is to invite young hopefuls to read for a part or to talk about being mentored and then drug the individual for the purposes of sex. This kind of behavior sounds rather unbelievable, but it does happen, more than we would like to believe. It beckons the question of what may have led to this movement away from grace, as we know that although there is no excuse for egregious acts, those who traumatize others have often been traumatized themselves. Given the ubiquity of these incidents, and the stereotypes conjured up, it makes sense to  and to reflect deeply in order to understand  the causes, repercussions and trickle-down effects of sexual violence in a sociopolitical and intergenerational context, but without EVER condoning acts of harm toward others.







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