The impact of trauma on our minds and bodies is something that continually amazes me and is often lost in the headlines of these crimes. With the recent allegations of serial sexual offenses against another high profile person in the Harvey Weinstein case, it seems fitting to review the impacts of sexual assault, harassment, and coercive control. Many survivors struggle with flashbacks, nightmares, ongoing fear, hypervigilance, invasive memories, emotional numbness, and hyperarousal.
Survivors are at heightened risk of developing a variety of physical and mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder PTSD , and substance abuse Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, They often struggle in silence with feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and self-blame. Very few sexual assault survivors report the abuse, and those who do often face an uphill battle in a legal system that generally does not understand trauma and the impacts of abuse.
Sexual assault statistics vary across the world, but in general, they make it very easy to identify potential victims. For instance, if you are a woman and live in North America, you have a 1 in 4 chance of being sexually assaulted in your lifetime Symes, ; Statistics Canada, If you are a man in North America, these statistics are important to you, because there is a high likelihood that at least one of the women in your life will be sexually assaulted.
And as a man living in North America, I am not okay with this. We should use this and other cases to not only highlight our duty to report, but to become more familiar with the types of situations that breed harassment and abuse.
It is important to identify the ways in which predators and offenders use psychological tactics and coercive control to commit sexual crimes. Coercive control is not always visible to the public, which makes reporting and intervening difficult.
However, with more awareness of its model of abuse, we can begin to spot early warning signs and support those at risk. Many survivors of sexual assault report that during an assault, they may experience feelings of being frozen, detached, immobile, and unable to speak.
The term coercive control refers to a model of abuse that emphasizes strategies to dominate women Stark, With coercive control, the lines between confinement and freedom are blurred.
The use of coercive control as a strategy depends on continued inequalities for women, including gaps in wages, job opportunities, and leadership roles. The common narratives in the Weinstein allegations sound very typical. He promises to help their career and tells them stories of others he has helped make it to the top. But more importantly, he tells them of people he has taken down, ruined, and whose careers in Hollywood disappeared because of him. This subtle intimidation is one of the first warning signs of coercive control.
In turn, many of the aspiring actresses agree to meet with Weinstein. Once face-to-face with Harvey, some of the accusers describe a marked change in his voice, sudden advancements into their personal space, and an overall shift in the focus of the meeting.
All of these alleged behaviors are elements of control, the third tactic of coercive control. The aspect of the Weinstein allegations that differs from some typical sexual assault cases is the psychological control and power dynamics that are present.
They point to the use of coercive control tactics to secure privileges that involved access to sex and personal services, often without consent. Weinstein is reported to have utilized non-disclosure agreements and gag orders. As the media help us all become aware of allegations of insidious acts by Weinstein and other high-profile figures, we need to turn our attention to survivors of sexual assault and the issue on a broader scale.
When we understand, validate, and believe the stories of survivors, we gain a responsibility to support and advocate. Men have a great responsibility to hold each other accountable, as well as to challenge popular beliefs about masculinity and the inequality and oppression that women face.
Evan Stark argues in his book, Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, that coercive control remains a marginal concept in mainstream thinking. He adds that its lack of acknowledgment in policy, domestic violence laws, and the criminal code has led to a lack of interventions for survivors.
As true as this statement is, it appears that simply believing that sexual assault, harassment, and assault are occurring is a marginal concept in mainstream thinking. With more education, awareness, and social media campaigns such as MeToo , we can no longer ignore that these acts are happening all around us.
But these campaigns often fall short, as survivors are the only ones doing the talking. For me, the sheer fact that statistically speaking, either my mother, sister, wife, or daughter will be sexually assaulted at some point is enough motivation for me to speak out.
But maybe the real question is: Are we ready to listen? Deciding whom to tell: Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31, 38— Campbell, R, Sefl, T. Community services for rape survivors: Enhancing psychological well-being or increasing trauma? Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67, — Researching violence against women: Statistics Canada's national study. Canadian Journal of Criminology: Focus on the Violence Against Women Survey, 37 3: Coercive control and the defense of liberty.
How men entrap women in personal life. Measuring violence against women: Treatment improvement protocol TIP series, No. Abuse across the lifespan: Prevalence, risk, and protective factors. Nursing Clinics of North America, 46 4 , University of British Columbia. Myths about sexual assault. His experiences working in residential treatment, youth justice, child welfare, and palliative care have led to a passion for trauma therapy, advocacy, and holistic health.
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