By Dr. Cindi Drake, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
/ Published April 16, 2010
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- How resilient are you? What does resiliency have to do with trauma? A person's resiliency skills can often give leadership a good indication of how their personnel will recover or rebound from a traumatic event, such as a sexual assault.
Internal resiliency consists of how strong one is mentally, and spiritually. External resiliency consists of a persons' social support network, and physical "self-care." Mental resilience involves the victims' healthy coping skills, self-esteem, emotional stability, and mental fortitude such as reasoning and resolving negative thought patterns that often emerge after a sexual assault. Spiritual resilience involves a sense of hope, faith in something greater than self, and sense of purpose and meaning in life. Social resilience involves ones social support network, such as family, friends, co-workers and groups one may be associated with, for instance, involvement in a team sports or hobbies. Physical resilience is the way the victim cares for self such as exercising, eating healthy foods, and avoiding self-medicating whether alcohol or other substances.
As the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, part of my job is to assess a victims' ability to pull from their internal and external resources already in place. This assessment provides me with a good idea as to how the SAPR team can further respond and assist victims of sexual assault. Questions such as, "Why me? Will I ever get over this numbness? And will I be able to trust again?" are truly questions that are tied in with internal and external resiliency.
After experiencing a sexual assault, victims often feel an initial sense of emotional and social isolation, or alienation. I emphasize to the victims that they are survivors, they are alive, and they are not alone because everyone on the SAPR team is supporting them for as long as they need us, whether a restricted or unrestricted report. The team of Victim Advocates provides empathy and support, which is often a result of prior exposure to interpersonal violence, whether personally or as a witness.
Sometimes this heart-felt assurance helps; however, taking a brief moment to explain the mental and emotional process the individual may experience, as well as offer a trauma recovery booklet is an effective resource as well. Due to the intense stress victims must deal with, having a brief written reference can help remind them of what to anticipate during their recovery process, as well as the services provided by the SAPR program.
The brief verbal explanation and written material often helps prepare them for uncomfortable and sometimes painful feelings once the shock of the trauma begins to subside. This is often the time the resiliency skills are most needed.
The victim is provided with methods to respond to their own counterproductive, negative, or self-blame mind-set, the "If I had only fought harder, or been more assertive," and begin identifying ways of gaining the sense of power and control through their thinking patterns. I do not encourage unhealthy patterns of repression and dissociation, where I often hear victims attempt to power through the problem, for instance: "I'm a soldier. I have to suck it up and go on, put this out of my mind." I encourage victims to focus on the positive things in life while working through the recovery process, which is a core element of resiliency. Self-care is another critical element to recovering from a traumatic event. I recommend the victim treat self him/herself as she or he would a best friend or member of the family; allowing the tears, and anger, and mourning over that part of self which is changed due to the violation that was perpetrated.
Being able to respond to a question that is an unknown such as "Why?" is part of the job; however, I don't have the answer, only the perpetrator does. The next question is often, "What did I do to deserve this?" I have an answer for that question, it is whether the victim is ready to hear it, or anyone else wants to hear it. I emphasize to the victim that she or he did absolutely nothing to deserve being assaulted. Nothing you may have said, or did, or how you acted gives the perpetrator permission to attempt or commit assault. The blame must be directed back at the perpetrator, not the victim.
When I observe it is necessary, I provide the victim with confirmed statistics about sexual assaults within the military and within society in general. The recent report by Department of Defense indicated an 11 percent rise in reported sexual assaults for fiscal year 2009. On college campuses, the estimated rate is 1:4 according to www.RAINN.org. The Department of Justice reported approximately 1:6 women and 1:10 men in the general population are victims of attempted or completed sexual assaults in their lifetime; however, only 20-30 percent of sexual assaults are reported.
As a SARC since July 2005, I have heard more than 90 accounts of sexual assault. Some of the survivors simply want someone to hear their story and do not make an official report; they need a witness to their pain, someone who will listen with empathy, someone who will not judge, and someone who truly understands ... they did nothing to warrant being sexually assaulted. So, the next time a friend, family member or Airman, tells you she or he needs to talk about something, or to someone, you just may be that one person they hope will listen empathetically and they consider you part of their resiliency structure.
How does resiliency come into play? If the victim can process and internalize the idea that there is no excuse for sexual assault, they can work toward being a healthy, fully functioning individual again, with support from social and spiritual resources. Utilizing their healthy coping skills such as physical exercise, healthy eating habits and processing any negative thought patterns with a Professional Counselor, Mental Health Therapist, or Social Worker can further increase their resiliency rate and coping skills.