Sexual Assault: Denying Your Anger at the Perpetrator
By: Beth McHugh 2008
One would expect that when a person has been sexually assaulted, the victim of the crime would be extremely angry at the perpetrator. But the act of sexual assault has such a profound effect on a person that what one might expect should happen, doesn’t necessarily happen that way at all.
Take the case of Madi. Madi had been sexually assaulted by her boss of seven years. She didn’t report the incident and continued to work with him. However, within weeks of the assault she developed severe anxiety and panic attacks. It was these out-of-control feelings that drove her into therapy, not the fact that she had been assaulted.
In fact, she was at a loss to work out the cause of her anxiety and panic. She even took a day off work to sit down quietly and try to write down all the things that were bothering her that could be driving the anxiety. One of them was the assault.
So this is what we worked on. Yet in describing her assaulter, Madi consistently told me what a wonderful man he was. I asked her was she angry at him for what he had done. The answer was a smiling “no”. In fact, whenever she spoke of this man and what he had done to her, she smiled. Smiling during descriptions of traumatic incidences is an obvious clue that things are more than a little askew in the lives of the traumatized.
She also minimized the level of pain the assault had caused her and she had the classic guilt of the traumatized victim of sexual assault. Once we got her to dispel her false beliefs about her own guilt and any consensual role she played in the attack, out came the anger.
This is when I know we are making progress in therapy. Anger is power and progress can then be made towards an acceptance of the assault and ultimately, recovery. Where there is denial, no recovery is possible.
Denial can range from Madi believing her boss was “a lovely man” despite evidence to the contrary, to accepting childhood rape as a form of “love” on the part of the father.
We will look at the latter scenario in coming blogs.