Monday, May 28, 2018

Tap-Code: When Sexual Assault Survivors Are Not Alone

Do you know about the "tap-code" created by US prisoners of war captured in Vietnam? Held in isolation for years, the soldiers created a code that allowed them to communicate by tapping on their cell walls. In this way, they were able to teach, learn and pray together. Because social support is how we humans become resilient.
Here's today's reflection on the concept of a "tap-code":
Research on the spiritual impact of sexual violence, and the voices of survivors themselves, reveal that the effect of traumatic victimization creates a feeling of “radical separation”—a sense of profound isolation and disconnection.* When I speak and write about the cultural context of sexual violence, I often point out that sexual violence against women is so prevalent that it is an unspoken commonality among adult women. Many factors contribute to the “unspoken”-ness: The fact that the sexual/bodily realm of experience is intensely private and personal. A victim-blaming culture that holds survivors responsible for violence done to them. The power of shame to silence and separate. The short- and long-term effects of the neurobiological stress response that accompanies sexual assault.
But social support is of tremendous value to people facing adversity, and survivors of sexual violence are no exception. Advances in clinical treatment for trauma survivors, much of which is based on neurobiological research, is terrifically important. But macro and mezzo practice also have the opportunity to change social norms and the cultural conversation. This is one reason recent shifts in policy and culture – elevating and validating the voices of survivors – are exciting to me. Creating a common, survivor-supportive language for discussing sexual violence signals survivors that social support is available for them. The way we talk about sexual violence in public—in the media, in public policy, and in our communities—is itself a “tap-code” that tells survivors of sexual trauma that they are not alone.
Deputy Director
Northampton MA

*The conception of PTSD as spiritual injury rests on an understanding that trauma damages the person's fundamental capacity for trust and attachment--what Sinclair (1993) calls "radical separation," cited in McBride and Armstrong, 1995, p. 8

McBride, J.L. and G. Armstrong. 1995.The Spiritual Dynamics of Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Religion and Health 34 (1): 5-16.

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