Monday, August 15, 2011

The myth about false rape reports

I really enjoyed the last book I read (title omitted to prevent spoilers, but feel free to ask for it in the comments or email me if you want to know) until I got to the "girl who cried wolf" part. In a nutshell, a lust-driven 15-year-old girl chases after a married man, who turns her down appropriately, and then she (falsely) accuses him of being involved with her, i.e. statutory rape.

I'm really, really tired of the false rape cliche in literature and film. In this case, her motives were essentially revenge. It comes up all the time-- a female is rejected/scorned/broken up with and so she decides to get back by falsely accusing the male of rape, or the female and male have sex and she regrets it later so she calls it rape. False rape really doesn't happen as often as so many people think it does. Studies conducted worldwide (and summarized in this issue of The Voice, a publication by The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women) point to a figure of 2-8%.

That's it. It's not 41%, as suggested by the severely flawed yet often cited Kanin (1994) study. Additionally, false reports almost always fit the stereotype of a sexual assault, the kind in which a victim can remain most "blameless" under society's flawed notions of what is considered sexual assault. False reports are almost never allegations against someone the victim knows, almost never "date rape" stories that are so often dismissed as acts of vengeance or regret. Actual false rape reports read along the lines of a "classic" (and actually very rare) scenario, involving a stranger or vaguely described acquaintance who is never named and use of a weapon and/or serious physical injury. The "assault" will only have included penile-vaginal penetration and the victim will say she struggled and physically resisted to the utmost. Essentially, the story painted will cast the "victim" in the most best light possible, with the least blame placed upon her by society. False rape reports are made mostly by mentally or emotionally disturbed individuals.

So this whole "women cry rape for revenge all the time" thing is complete and utter nonsense, yet people continue to perpetuate this harmful myth. When someone (a very brave someone) comes forth to report sexual assault by someone they know, one of the most common reactions is to doubt it, to look for other possible motives the victim might have to lie. Why? When someone reports being mugged, most people assume s/he is being truthful. What makes sexual assault so different?

The prevalence of false rape stories in literature and the media serves to keep this myth alive. It is always severely disappointing to me when "the girl who cried wolf" is used as a cheap plot point. False rape reports are not as widespread as most people believe, and they are almost never the ones people think are false (i.e. acquaintance rapes).

PS- The article I linked to above is a very good, worthwhile read.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Finding the fine line between respecting a victim's autonomy and a dangerous hands-off approach

[Possible domestic violence trigger in linked posts.]

I received an email from a friend two days ago that said my posts on abusive relationships had made her think. There were some people she knew that she was worried about, she said. What did I think?

I told her what I've always told people-- that it's better to talk to someone and offer support than keep quiet, even if you think they might lash out angrily or defensively. I have mentioned, in previous posts (here, here, and here), that I feel like I am in the minority when I say that. Much of the advice I have heard recommends that friends just watch and keep quiet, or make subtle inquiries, at most. A different (perhaps slightly cynical?) friend I spoke to hypothesized that this might be because most people can't be trusted not to say something rash or judgmental or make the situation worse (e.g. by saying something in front of the abuser or in a way that gets back to the abuser). But I think maybe we should give people more credit than that, especially if they're aware enough to notice and concerned enough to consider approaching a friend they worry about.

So it was very good timing that today I found two posts that discuss this situation very well. One is a post by a feminist who herself was in a violently abusive relationship. She talks about how the illusion of self-sufficiency can keep well-educated, independent, articulate women in an abusive relationship because they think they can handle it. She mentions how she said "I can handle it" to herself and to other people who cared enough to ask. And then she says she wished people knew not to trust her answers because relationship violence had changed her, affected her. This is important, so I'll say it again: abuse really does affect people physically and mentally (there is scientific proof of these biological changes), so while someone may be a perfectly smart, capable person otherwise, they may legitimately need help now, with this one situation. It doesn't reflect poorly in any way on their self-sufficiency in other situations.

This section of the post particularly resonated with me:

I needed the people around me to be more alert than I was capable of being. I needed them to not rely on my cues; I needed them to not take me at my word; I needed them to not treat me as though I were functioning at my best, fullest, most autonomous self. There’s a sentiment within the abuse-prevention community—- and the feminist community—- that we must respect victims’ autonomy, and it’s a necessary point when coupled with a solid understanding of abuse. But without that fuller understanding, respecting autonomy can too easily lapse into a hands-off approach. Which, when you’re concerned for someone who is in the fog of abuse, can lapse into the realm of danger.

I have personally experienced the hands-off approach, and I can say with certainty that it sucked. I spent months wishing that someone might notice, might care, might show they cared by approaching me.

The post also links to another article in Glamour that does a great job of approaching the topic of relationship violence as well. One thing I wanted to pull out from that article and state here is from the section called "Here's What You Can Say." Two simple phrases can do a whole heck of a lot.

  • "I am afraid for you."
This is a gentle, non-judgmental way to tell someone that the situation they are in is not okay, but that it is not their fault, and that you are listening and you are there for them. If the person has already had doubts of their own, it is validating, and if it hasn't quite occurred to them yet that they are in a harmful situation, it may get them to think without raising the defensive hackles that might come from a more pointed statement about them or their abusive partner.

  • "I am proud of you."
Leaving an abusive relationship can be really difficult, even when logic dictates otherwise. Support is of the essence. This phrase goes beyond support and also conveys your conviction that they have done the right thing. It's something I wanted and needed to hear every day after I left my abusive relationships and as I was recovering from sexual assault. It's a powerful phrase-- don't assume that the survivor knows it already, because even if (s)he does, it's still indescribably rewarding to hear.

One last thing I wanted to end this post with: I wanted to reiterate that an abusive relationship does not have to involve physical violence to be abusive. Both the articles I linked to dealt with physical violence, but physical violence is just one of many criteria for an abusive relationship-- when a victim is already plagued by doubt, the last thing (s)he needs is to read something about relationship abuse and come away with the idea that it has to be physically violent to be considered abuse. Abuse can be emotionally or psychological as well. Threats, isolation, intimidation, and control are all signs of an unhealthy relationship. If it doesn't feel right, listen to your gut.

Friday, August 5, 2011

One Day, One Room

Some of you House fans might recognize this as the title of the twelfth episode of season 3. I don't think it's really a spoiler just to say that House has a clinic patient who was raped. A lot of the episode consists of philosophical discussion about religion and abortion. I've already talked about my views on abortion here and here. What was more interesting to me from this episode was when the patient (who insisted on House as her doctor) and House talk about the "why?" of the event and the "why?" of the universe: why the Event happened to her, why things happen.

It made me think about my own situation and if I ever came to terms with why it happened-- or if I even cared. I don't know, truthfully. My parents, being some corrupt version of Buddhist, decided it was fate. They said they were told by a monk or a fortuneteller-like person that something bad was going to happen to me (because of something I did in a past life), and that this was it and they were glad it wasn't worse. That went in one ear and out the other; once I stopped living with them, I stopped having to put up with their version of religion. I would rather believe that bad things happen at random or because of my own bad choices than accept that my "past lives" dictate much of what I experience this time around.

After rejecting the "Buddhism" I grew up with, I don't think I ever came up with my own belief system, though. I still don't know if I'm atheistic or agnostic. I don't know if I believe in Fate. After the Event happened, it didn't occur to me to ask about why it happened when I was more worried about how I was going to get through the day or if there was anything worth getting through the day for.

If I hadn't seen this episode of House, maybe I never would have really thought about this at all. It's not a question that really bothers me. It happened. It wasn't the first time, but hopefully it will be the last. Why did all of it happen? *shrug* Therapy says the easier, or better, question to ask is if anything good came out of it. I suppose so. The event my senior year pushed me to get therapy for it and all the other previous events that I never talked about. The gravity and reality of mental illness finally touched my parents' consciousness, penetrated the Great [Asian] Wall of Denial and Disbelief, and they let me see a therapist and take medication. After the event happened, I turned into someone who lived day-by-day, which gave me a better appreciation of the little things in life once I could start to appreciate anything at all. I found purpose. I found an issue I really cared about, and I became an activist for women's rights and an advocate for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. When therapy helped me see that I didn't have to let being raped affect my whole life in order to validate my experience, I decided to become a veterinarian instead of a human-doctor because I finally saw how much animals meant to me, how much they helped me, and how much I wanted to help them. A lot of things happened because of what happened in the early, early hours of March 26, 2008. Some of them were even good. Does this mean the Event happened for a reason? Can I actually answer the question of why it happened to me? *sigh* Even after my rambling, I'm still left where I began. Uncertain about the answer, and unsure I even care.

It was part of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program D* and I did at the VA Hospital. The last unit wanted me to make meaning of the trauma. I guess when I was still deeply entrenched in the aftermath, I did spend some particularly bad times asking "why me?" out of bitterness and pain and despair. I didn't expect an answer then, nor do I think an answer would have helped. Come to think of it, maybe it was a rhetorical question for me, just an outlet for pain and self-pity.

I've always had some version of the Just World fallacy in my head, where good people always act good, good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people. I still blamed myself then for what happened, even though I wanted to believe that it wasn't my fault. I thought since I wanted to believe it, it must not have been true. It doesn't make sense to actually wonder why something happened when you think it's your fault. Therefore, I must not have really been asking why it happened, and so my question was rhetorical.


I feel like I've rambled myself in circles and not really come up or come out with much. Maybe I just needed to write something because the TV episode numbed me and I wanted myself back. Maybe the numbness explains why I don't actually care about why it happened and why I'm not really emotionally connected to this post. I wanted an epiphany, but either I couldn't find it because Fate says it wasn't meant to be, I couldn't find it because I'm not good enough, or I couldn't find it because it's not there to begin with. Regardless of why, I still don't have an epiphany.

I think the conclusion I've been able to reach is that the concept of Fate confuses me. The alternatives are believing that my actions determine my life or that events happen randomly. If I believe the former, then how do I reconcile that with believing the rapes weren't my fault? Does this mean that I have to believe I have no free will in order to exonerate myself from my trauma?

Also, is it weird that I can write all this yet not really... care? Maybe it's just the numbness. I don't know. It's a little unnerving to have written a whole blog post yet not really feel any emotional involvement at all.


So far today I have had edamame for breakfast, watched House, and hugged cats. I think it's time to reboot my day and start over.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A brief post brought to you by The Hunger Games trilogy (no spoilers, don't worry)

Not even entirely sure why I'm posting this, but it's 2:30am and my PTSD is hovering on the edges of my mind and I know I can't sleep but I have no one to talk to. The books were pretty intense and rather brutal, but I think it's the portrayal of PTSD as much as the violence that's keeping me too scared to close my eyes and try to sleep. Maybe scared isn't the right word. Just...on edge. Tense. Fearful of nothing and everything. My head hurts and I'm yawning, but I can't bring myself to crawl into bed and turn off the lights. I wonder if my reactions now are also the accumulation of all the times something happened in the books that made me want to cry and I forced it back. Numbing: maybe not the best idea, since that's how I've dealt with anything remotely triggering for at least the past few weeks, maybe months, I don't remember.

At least tomorrow is a free day for me? I hope I can eventually sleep and that no dreams haunt me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Today's the day it's going to happen."

I had that odd thought this morning on the bus as I was going to my therapy appointment at the ungodly hour of 7:30am. I blinked when I heard myself say it. What was with the future tense, the idea that it's going to happen? I didn't know and I guess I still don't know. It's not really the purpose of this post either-- I just thought it was a compelling start.

I did pretty well this week. Some rough moments at the beginning of the week after D* left, but I got through the week, finished my problem set, did my lab, and even did pretty well on a midterm exam. There weren't any bad dreams or triggers. Last night, when I got on the bus to return home after the exam, there was a guy on the bus who looked exactly like Him. I stumbled a little, both mentally and physically, but surprised myself by calmly moving to a seat where I couldn't see him and then promptly zoning out instead of having a crazy anxiety attack.

This morning at the therapy session I talked about how unnerved I was that I wasn't falling apart. Usually the week leading up to the anniversary is bad. This year it's even worse because March 25th actually falls on a Friday, which makes it seem all the more real, more striking. But I didn't become a total failing, flailing mess this week, and somehow that felt... wrong. I brainstormed with my therapist and came up with two noticed thoughts:

1) An oldie but a goodie: "Someone who has truly been through an awful event will always feel triggered, so if I don't feel bad when I ought to, that means the Event really wasn't that bad in the first place and I've been lying to myself and everyone (for attention? for pity? who knows)."

I've had that belief for years, and it's definitely been hindering my healing process because it actively keeps me from letting myself heal.

2) "The fact that I don't feel bad right now means that it's all just waiting to drop a catastrophic bomb on my head later."

This is the worry-thought, the one that tries to be helpful and protective but really doesn't do me much good.

I was on the border of calm/numb this morning during therapy, possibly partially due to being tired as well from not enough sleep (no bad dreams or insomnia, just bad time management choices). I talked about the above thoughts with my therapist but I think I was a bit dissociated; nothing really got through to me. The only thing that stuck a little was an analogy I made, where I mentioned the study that showed that when people complain, trying to problem-solve usually doesn't help. However, acknowledging and agreeing that the subject of their complaint is bad/frustrating/etc. actually appeases them instead. I don't remember why I brought that up, but something kind of clicked and led to the idea that maybe I should try to sit and non-judgmentally acknowledge those Noticed Thoughts up there for a while, because clearly problem solving hasn't worked-- I've been working on those thoughts for quite a while-- but maybe thinking about why they're there instead of determinedly trying to obliterate them could help.

What my therapist and I came up with was that maybe it might be a mutated version of a few different adaptive behaviors/thoughts. People often understand themselves or see things about themselves through others' eyes. When I first started having severe depression, I went to friends and needed to see that they saw what I felt, to receive that external validation. Another beneficial behavior is surrounding yourself with and seeking out people who are helpful, understanding, supportive. Both those things make sense and seem okay, but they have combined and mutated into a belief that I have to convince others that something bad really did happen to me or it wasn't actually that bad to begin with, and that I have to do that forever.

I asked her if this was normal behavior for someone healing, and she said it's normal not to trust the signs of healing, because feeling okay is such a foreign feeling after you've been hurt for so long. That makes sense to me, but I feel like it's not the whole picture. I feel like I almost got to some kind of epiphany about what was going on during the session, but didn't quite reach it.

I actually started writing this post because I took an afternoon nap and woke up after a horrific dream feeling tense and scared and dissociated. I got a little sidetracked with talking about this morning's therapy because I thought I should present the whole picture of today, but really this post was going to be about how I feel now. It's gotten a little better since I started writing this post, but I was so tense that my muscles all over my body hurt. When I was thrown out of my dream into sudden wakefulness, the world seemed different, distant. My body wanted to tense up and curl up and stay still and small and watchful. I was taking tiny little breaths and moving as little as possible, out of fear or wariness for some unknown. I tried reading a book of comforting words to survivors; while the words were nice, nothing really reached me. I tried calling D* but couldn't get through. I tried to cry but I couldn't. I felt frozen, unable to get out of bed, but I knew I needed to do something. So I got myself here, to the computer, with the hopes that writing might help. I'm not as tense anymore, but I still feel dissociated. It's better, I guess. D* is coming down to be with me tonight, and I have a long list of things I have to do before he gets here.

Oh, one other thing from therapy that might be worth mentioning. In previous years, I have tried to stay up till at least 2 or 3am, in an attempt to somehow acknowledge the gravity of what happened when it happened, to sit and feel and be with those feelings and accept. However, tomorrow morning I have lab at 9am, so I have to go to bed early and I can't do that this year. The analogy popped into my head that it was a little like being a kid who had to go to bed early and miss New Year's. It feels weird, skipping over such an important time. It makes me uncomfortable. It's like a bad version of going to sleep before Daylight Savings Time takes effect and suddenly having things be different in the morning without an explanation I was there to see; like something happening in the middle of the night and I wasn't there to acknowledge and accept and understand it. I don't know, I just don't like the fact that I can't truly commemorate, for lack of a better word, the Event properly. It feels like tonight won't be the same, won't be complete somehow. I don't know how this will affect the rest of my weekend, but in a moment of either sanity or insanity, I went ahead and scheduled visits with potential roommates for Saturday afternoon and Sunday, trying to treat this like a normal weekend, I guess. We'll see how it goes...?

Okay. I have to get myself to at least do some basic things like clean up the room and change the sheets and do laundry. I have to write up the pre-lab for tomorrow, but that takes more concentration so it can wait. *takes a deep breath* Onwards and forwards.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Three Years.

This weekend will mark three years since the Event. March 25th/26th also happens to fall on a Friday/Saturday this year, which makes it all the more difficult. Three years seems like both a long time and a short time since my life broke apart and I had to put it back together.

I've already cried a lot just thinking about it. I'm terrified I won't be able to hold it together this week; I can't afford to be triggered and depressed constantly because I have a midterm exam, problem set, and two labs for my classes. There's so much riding on this week, so much I have to fight for and do.

I'm scared. :-/

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

If anyone figures out how to let go of rage, please let me know.

It's been a while since I've felt so triggered; I can't say I miss these feelings, the bleak numbness, the hollow pit in my stomach, the sense that somehow the world isn't quite real, or that I am not totally in the world right now.

I'm not totally sure what brought it on this morning, but I can guess. Last night, a girl I do not really know well but did meet once, a new-ish brother of the fraternity I both love and hate for their role in my assault, posted a link on Facebook to a NYT op-ed condemning the media for their abhorrent responses to Lara Logan's gang rape and Scott Brown's story of childhood molestation. I commented on her link that I have unfortunately heard some of those comments in person myself, and she replied that she wondered if people would say these things if the victim was their daughter. Without really thinking too much about it at the time, I then replied that I was a survivor of assault, and that I had heard/been told awful things myself by "friends." This morning, she replied that she was sorry that my friends hadn't been there for me, and how disappointing a response that was.

I wonder if she knows that the people I am talking about are her brothers in that frat.

Last night I dreamed about them again. Not about the rape itself anymore-- I almost never dream about the event itself, and truth be told, I think its hold on my emotions is much less than the betrayal, hurt, and anger I still feel when I think about the aftermath. I dreamt about B*, the one person I hate more than anything in this world, more than the man who raped me. In the dream I remember crying tears of frustration and anger at B's smug little face saying things to me that no rape victim should ever have to hear from anyone. I dreamt of him grabbing hold of me to reinforce his threats, and my dream self kicked and cried and lashed out while still feeling helpless. And in my dream those people that were supposed to be my friends and brothers all turned a blind eye to the victim-blaming poison B* was spouting. My dream was real life all over again. Last night I was flooded with the very same emotions that hindered my recovery for so long-- the dismay at seeing "friends" stand by B* and continue to be friends with the one person I would happily condemn to a life of misery.

I hate this. I hate him. I hate the fact that I want so badly to never return to campus and to cut ties with all these people who, consciously or not, hurt me for so long, but I still waver. I have quit and then rejoined and quit again from their email lists. I don't know what keeps me still occasionally fondly referring to them as "my frat" before remembering what they did.

I feel like sh*t. I know that I will never fully heal until I can stop seething with anger at B* and his stupid little cronies that used to be my friends. To this day hearing his name or even thinking about him causes an immediate physical response in me, a helpless frustration, a fury that threatens to boil over, an urge to take revenge and ruin his life in any way I could. It burns me that his smug little self is living a happy life somewhere without ever being punished by anyone or feeling any smidgen of remorse for being the worst jerkface I have ever known. Some days my only outlet to that fury is to think about the worst curse I could wish upon him, a way to make his life full of failure and misery that he caused himself, so that he couldn't play the martyr. I hate him so much, yet I will never receive any satisfaction. I know I have to let this go, but I can't for the life of me figure out how.

I suppose the only thing I can do to give me any measure of closure is to cut ties with those people in any way I can. Deleting them on Facebook sounds so terribly superficial and useless, but if it helps me get back to functioning in the real world for now, then so be it. *sigh*