A survivors’s statement at her attacker’s sentencing are helping to shed light on the trauma follows sexual assault.
“You touched my soul in a way that haunts me in my sleep,” 21-year-old Melissa Maher told the court during the sentencing of Patrick Whetstone. The court sentenced Whetstone, also 21, to two years probation after he plead guilty to assault with intent to commit sexual abuse. Whetsone will also be required to register a sex offender for 10 years.
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According to Fox News U.S., the prosecution and Whetstone’s defense had jointly recommended the sentence.
A criminal complaint filed by Maher alleged that she was assaulted after falling asleep while drinking in March 2014, when she was a 19-year-old undergraduate at Iowa State University, Raw Story reports.
According ot KCCI, Maher spoke directly to Whetstone, saying:
“Let’s count the number of times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and found myself yelling, crying, kicking and screaming or swearing from the nightmares of you and your sad existence. Or perhaps we could count the number of times you’ve ruined a date for me and my fiancé because I have these awesome relapses of where I can’t stop reliving a memory from you.”
Whetstone’s victim’s words shed light the mental health impact of sexual violence, which many survivors suffer in silence.
“Surviving a rape or sexual assault is a life-changing event, one that changes how you view the world, how you view your relationships, and how you view yourself,” the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network reports on its page.
According to RAINN, some survivors suffer from a condition known as Rape Trauma Syndrome, which plays out in a series of three stages, beginning with an “acute phase,” which can manifest in ways ranging from crying spells to disorientation to an outward appearance of calm.
The second phase involves how a survivor attempts to proceed with everyday life, often internalizing trauma. This can involve constant anxiety, mood swings, depression, rage, nightmares and insomnia, disordered eating, flashbacks, panic attacks, and attempts to escape what happened. The last phase consists of healing and acceptance.
As RAINN notes, these steps don’t always happen in order and vary greatly from person to person.
Many rape survivors also experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress explains.
Though PTSD is most associated with members of the military who have experienced trauma in combat – which was recently addressed by President Obama in a Wednesday town hall event. But it can impact anyone who has lived through an event “outside the range of normal human experience,” AAETS points out.
This includes rape, domestic violence, natural disasters and other incidents.
“In the legal system, women who report PTSD from rape are less likely to be believed than men who report PTSD from combat,” the report adds.
It’s also important to recognize that giving victims of sexual assault the mental health support they need requires us to do more than simply diagnose them.
It demands that we listen to survivors, believe them, and offer support and resources when appropriate.