31 Oct 2017
October 31, 2017

Sex assault victims need to speak out to heal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She had been the quiet one, the one everybody knew yet no one really knew back in our school days.

Recent news, she said, had compelled her to reach out to me more than four decades later to deliver a letter she hoped might be of some use in the Journal. She wanted to talk about something few had known back in our younger years, something that may have accounted for her shyness at school.

Staying quiet, she explained, had been how she had coped with years of sexual assault. But she was done with being quiet.

“Not all victims of sexual abuse die but the effects can last a lifetime,” she wrote in her letter. “The long-term effects are trouble trusting others, post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, loss of interest, prolonged sadness, feelings of hopelessness, unexplained crying, depression, disassociation, drug addiction, anger, distrust, and rejection. I know this to be true because I was a victim myself and I suffered from many of these things throughout my life.”

She signed her letter “Victim in Albuquerque.”

She showed up at the Journal after weeks of stories had appeared in our paper about the gruesome sexual assault and slayings of two children in New Mexico. Those stories had triggered long-buried memories and emotions within her. It had brought her to her knees and then to her feet to stand up not just for herself but for the countless other victims of sexual assault.

And then came Donald Trump.

The release in October of a 2005 tape in which the Republican presidential candidate bragged about how he could grab, grope and kiss beautiful women because he was a “star” opened the floodgates for sexual assault survivors, many who took to social media to share their stories and bare their scars.

I wrote about what I called the “groundswell of a sisterhood seeking its power and political clout” in an Oct. 14 column. I heard from those who found the column political and biased, which was not my intention, and from survivors like my former classmate.

Therapist Cindy Anderson

Survivors also reached out in larger than usual numbers to Cindy Anderson, executive director and founder of Peopleworks-NM, a behavioral health counseling agency in Rio Rancho specializing in services for older adults since 2009.

The incidents disclosed by her clients, some well into their 70s and 80s, had been buried for decades, but the video and its continuing aftermath had brought the memories to the surface.

“When you have these kinds of remarks being made, it can be a trigger to past trauma,” Anderson said. “Some are experiencing a late onset of post-traumatic stress disorder after they reconnect to that past trauma. And now they are taking the time to really process what happened to them.”

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