Statement in Support of Survivors of Sexual Trauma

As members of the Women’s Committee of the New York County Psychiatric Society, a local District Branch of the American Psychiatric Association, we feel it is our professional, ethical, and moral obligation to speak out in support of survivors of sexual trauma who make the brave decision to share their stories publicly. Collectively we have decades of clinical experience working with this population. We have seen the serious, longstanding consequences of sexual trauma. It is difficult for survivors to come forward, and when they do, we applaud their courage in taking this bold step.

The National Violence Against Women Survey found that 1 in 6 women (17%) and 1 in 33 men (3%) reported being victims of attempted or completed rape during their lifetimes (1). Sexual violence can result in long-term psychiatric and social morbidity. We see this clinically and it is supported by a large body of literature. People who have been sexually assaulted have a higher probability of developing substance use disorders than the general public (2). On a social level, sexual violence adversely affects victims’ relationships with their family, friends, and co-workers (3). Thirty three percent (33%) of women who are raped contemplate suicide, and 13% of women who are raped attempt suicide (2).

Given the grave damage caused by sexual violence, it is of the utmost importance that all victims are heard, respected, and taken seriously so that perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, survivors are often ridiculed, mocked, intimidated and attacked when they come out publicly with their stories. Victim-silencing behavior is abhorrent, especially when it is espoused by public figures such as an elected official.

Survivors of sexual violence repeatedly endure negative consequences after revealing their painful experiences and that must not be the case.

Our expectations of our lawmakers is that when they become aware of such information or allegations, they do their due diligence and clear the matter in a respectful and rational manner, and set aside their political biases.

Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” It is time to relieve that suffering by enabling survivors to come forward and share their stories in a safe environment, free of prejudice, without fear of retaliatory attacks or character assassination.

We all deserve to benefit from our proud American democracy.

References
1. Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Sexual assault: Scope of the problem. (2018). Accessed at https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem on 25 September 2018.
2. DG Kilpatrick, CN Edumuds, AK Seymour. Rape in America: A Report to the Nation. Arlington, VA: National Victim Center and Medical University of South Carolina (1992).
3. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Socioemotional Impact of Violent Crime (2014).

This statement was authored by the Women's Committee and endorsed by NYCPS.

Women’s Committee Members
• Shabnam Shakibaie Smith, M.D. (Chair)
• Barbara Gordon, M.D.
• Diana Punko, M.D., M.S.
• Sharon Sageman, M.D.
• Morisa Schiff-Mayer, M.D.

 

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