Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. -Robert Frost
Monday, December 8, 2014
Rape Story ‘Inconsistencies’ And Why We Need To Understand Trauma: Just a few days ago, the University of Virginia community suffered immensely as it reacted to a recent Rolling Stone article regarding rape and sexual assault on university grounds. The article detailed a gruesome gang rape that took place in September 2012 at a university fraternity, taking care to expose the story from a deliberately provocative angle. This generated responses that dismissed the article as “bad journalism” and “sensationalism.” Now, we find those criticisms to be well-founded. Subsequent investigations have cast doubt on Jackie’s story, and Rolling Stone has declared its faith in her “misplaced.” The full retraction can be found here. The original article whipped up fury, enough to generate some serious conversation and make positive changes. The University of Virginia community suffered, gasped and then took another breath. It broke the surface and believed it could move forward; it could band together, stay strong and fight for its dignity. But, suddenly, the fight shifted. No one knows whom to blame. Now, everyone sees some evil lurking in this story, but we can’t tell from where or from whom it stems. My greatest concern is that this will end the conversation. When there is no specific villain in a story, the plot sometimes gets broken up into pieces and no one knows where to turn. All the energy this article generated will be lost and splatter out in various directions without a specific focus, and then it will dissipate. Rape victims will be less likely than ever to come forward and listeners will be less inclined to listen and believe. But, I believe there is a problem with the way in which we, as a nation, listen to the stories of rape survivors. False rape reports are extremely rare, but many rape stories that are essentially true are believed to be false because the traumatized mind and memory are extremely vulnerable. Trauma disturbs mental activity, so the “inconsistencies” of rape stories actually lend credence to it, instead of disproving an account. There is a pressure on rape survivors to remember every detail perfectly. But, before we expect straightforward, factual accounts, we need to take time to understand the ways in which trauma affects the mind and the memory. Any experience with a highly emotional component — euphoria, rage, fear — is unlikely to be recorded perfectly and objectively because the individual is not objective in that moment. Moments of intense feeling can render our reasons and judgments unreliable. Moments of trauma, then, both during the experience and in the aftermath, render brain activity haywire. Just as the survivor of a severe car accident struggles to remember anything except headlights and screeching tires, a rape survivor might experience difficulty sorting through his or her memories. When he or she is forced to recount the moment over and over again — in interviews, maybe on a witness stand, to friends and family and even reporters — the repeated stories begin to take on new meanings. The more conditioned people become to their own words, the more their words begin to shape their already shaky memories. Inaccuracy in trauma victims’ memories — “trauma” referring to more than just sexual assault — is not uncommon. For more information about how trauma affects the mind, see Dr. David Lisak’s video on the neurobiology of trauma. Because the mind is damaged during trauma, “inconsistencies” in rape accounts should strengthen the credibility of the story, not destroy it. It is crucial that listeners, advocates and members of the justice system remember: If you have not experienced it, you cannot demand a set of behaviors from those who have. If you have not experienced painful trauma, you must listen when trauma victims tell you how they feel and look for patterns in their behavior, not your idea of how you think they should respond. If you have not experienced rape or sexual assault, you cannot fathom the mind of a victim; you can only look for patterns in the stories of those who have. We need to allow for safe spaces for trauma victims to speak out. Fact checking is crucial, but we need to allow a margin in which “inconsistency” is valuable because we understand it as a symptom of the very trauma a victim is trying to prove. Here is a tip for sorting through the inconsistencies: Look at how a victim responds afterward. Is his or her behavior consistent with a trauma victim, and does he or she exhibit behaviors that lend credence to the account? If an individual was previously a straight-A student and suddenly fails classes, for example, like Jackie did, that is consistent with behaviors of a trauma victim. If an individual was previously cheerful and suddenly doesn’t shower, has nightmares and distances herself socially, that’s a signal. We need to pay attention to individuals’ behaviors after the trauma because that’s where the truth exists. If someone exhibits corresponding behaviors, allowing room for individuality and the way in which her particular experience affects her particular mind, we have all the more cause for allowing space for inconsistencies. Additionally, we need to allow space for the complexities of speaking out. Susan J. Brison wrote a beautiful article in Time, in which she addresses the “blame game” of rape discussion. She wrote, Those who have been raped know that if they speak out, they will be blamed for not doing whatever it is people imagine would have prevented them from being raped. They know this first-hand because they already blame themselves. It’s easy to blame the victims because of this or that and, thus, their stories are their fault. But, do you think that if that individual had known what would happen, he or she would have acted in this certain way? Do you think he or she doesn’t lay awake at night, running through those moments, every single one of them, wishing to have made another decision? Everyone makes mistakes or stupid decisions or puts him or herself into bad positions. It’s normal in human life, but sometimes, those decisions have no consequences and sometimes, they have catastrophic consequences. We need to encourage compassion, forgiveness and understanding for the latter cases. I hope we can move forward. This has been unfortunate publicity for everyone involved, but perhaps, it’s productive publicity nonetheless because it can shift the conversation from the ultimately counterproductive “frat hate” — which probably won’t help anyone — to understanding the complexities of trauma and rape discussion. I highly encourage everyone to watch Dr. Lisak’s video and to read Brison’s article, as both are immensely helpful in approaching an issue to which it seems there is no right answer. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Elite Daily. CONTRIBUTOR Grace Carpenter is a contributing writer from Cumberland, Maryland. She is an English major of the University of Virginia Class of 2015. She dreams to someday be a novelist, and in the meantime, loves baking and playing with her kitten, Mango.