Trauma Has a Face
By Eulalee Thompson
July 12, 2006
Trauma has a face. It is the face of that 14-year-old girl, gang-raped and then video-recorded for public scrutiny. Trauma has eyes. It is most people who viewed the abuse and violation, including journalists and interns, and then had to have a strong drink afterwards or to seek medical attention.
Trauma has a face
Trauma also has ears. It is people who did not experience or view the horror but nevertheless felt tremendous emotional pain when the story was recounted. It is also people who had memories of a previous trauma triggered just by hearing the facts of this horrible crime.
This is trauma - you may witness it, experience it or just be told about - it's enough to bring about internal conflict and emotional pain.
I would not want to recount the details of this case here, lest I cause more pain on the abused child or trigger memories of someone else's traumatic event, but as a mental health professional doing sessions in inner-city communities I have faced other girls like this 14-year-old. Some of them have been gang-raped not once but two and three times. Some of them could only continue into the next day by stepping outside of themselves and pretending that this 'thing' did not happen to them.
The nation is now traumatised, what can we do?
1. Sit with a friend who cares and start identifying and naming your feelings. In this case many people are feeling helpless, angry, betrayed (especially by the adults involved in this case), afraid (for themselves and their children), overwhelmed (especially by the enormity of the violence), sad, disbelieving, vulnerable.
2. Know that your feelings are normal responses to an abnormal situation.
3. Get into action mode (like the Monday afternoon demonstration at the Dayton Avenue Church of God); start boosting your coping strategies; rely more on your social support structure and start re-investing in yourself.
Recognise when you (or a loved one) needs professional help:
You keep on remembering the event - seeing images, having terrible dreams or even feel like the traumatic event is happening to you over and over again.
You go to great lengths to avoid people, places and things that remind you of the traumatic event.
You are on edge, jumpy, not sleeping or eating well, can't concentrate.
WHAT ARE THE LESSONS?
Let's not just feel angry, overwhelmed and helpless, let's take away and implement the lessons that can improve the life of this 14-year-old girl and make this country a better place.
Rape is not sex. Rape is violent. No one dresses to be raped. The rapist would have raped anyway because he is the one who needs help.
Girls and women are not 'a piece of meat', 'the beef', 'the thing'; I hear teenage boys and even adult men use these terms all the times. They are not cute. It means that you have to remove the feelings and humanity from girls and women in order to relate to them.
Similarly, girls and women are not property; not objet d'art; not objects; not just a breast, a butt, a vagina or a browning. They think and feel. They have no preordained duty to smile sweetly all the time to make men feel narcissistic impulses of men. They have their own dreams.
How are we raising our boys? To look at girls and women as property; to be so detached from their own feelings that they can't empathise with those of a screaming 14-year-old girl.
How are we raising our girls? We are giving them the best education that money can buy but are we still raising girls who are dependent and needy? Are we still telling them that they are incomplete without a man, any man, even one that the cat just dragged in. Empower our girls. Don't make them victims.
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