For extensive information about PTSD, see the Sidran resources page.

“A strong support network can make a world of difference in the aftermath of violence, but knowing whom to turn to after experiencing assault, harassment, or abuse can be a difficult thing.” Read the advice from Know Your IX.

For those without firsthand experience, the impacts of trauma can seem alien and unfathomable; for trauma survivors, they can be alienating and terrifying. Susan Brison’s Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of Self, has helped some OHCDB members to grapple with the nature of trauma, and we include some excerpts below.

Trigger warning: includes detailed discussions of trauma and grief and references to graphic violence. Please see our mental health resources page or, to talk to someone immediately, our catalogue of hotlines

Surviving Sexual Violence  

"Piecing together a shattered self requires a process of remembering and working through in which speech and affect converge in a trauma narrative. In this book I explore the performative aspect of speech in testimonies of trauma: how saying something about the memory does something to it. The communicative act of bearing witness to traumatic events not only transforms traumatic memories into narratives that canteen be integrated into the survivor's sense of self and view of the world, but it also reintegrates the survivor into a community, re-establishing bonds of trust and faith in others." [x-xi]

"Time may be linear (who knows?) but the aftermath was not. There have been many periods of progress and of decline, victories and setbacks, both major and minor. I have changed during this time and so have my views, but, rather than revise my earlier writings in light of more recent understandings, I have tried to convey the trajectory of my ideas. As Ursula LeGuin writes, "It doesn't seem right or wise to revise an old text severely, as if trying to obliterate it, hiding the evidence that one had to go there to get here. It is rather in the feminist mode to let one's changes of mind, and the process of change, stand as evidence" [xi-xii]

"My assailant was apprehended, convicted of rape and attempted murder, and sentenced to ten years in prison. His sentence is finished today. It's tempting to think, as I release this book into the world, that mine is, too, although I know there will be many returns of the day, more occasions for telling and retelling the story. But right now, as I look out at the freshly mown field behind our house in Vermont, all I see and hear is new life--shoots of grass, lupines, pine trees, fireflies, crickets, frogs, small things singing. And I'm surrounded by the warmth and sweetness of friends and family and music. We may call such things reasons to live, but reason has little to do with it. They are the embodiments of our wishes and passions, the hopes and desires that draw us into the future." [xii-xiii]

"My sense of unreality was fed by the massive denial of those around me--a reaction I learned in an almost universal response to rape. Where the facts would appear to be incontrovertible, denial takes the shape of attempts to explain the assault in ways that leave the observers' worldview unscathed. Even those who are able to acknowledge the existence of violence try to protect themselves from the realization that the world in which it occurs is their world and so they find it hard to identify with the victim. They cannot allow themselves to imagine the victim's shattered life, or else their illusions about their own safety and control over their own lives might begin to crumble." [9]

"We are not taught to empathize with victims. In crime novels and detective films, it is the villain, or the one who solves the murder mystery, who attracts our attention; the victim, a merely passive pretext for our entertainment, is conveniently disposed of--and forgotten--early on. We identify with the agents' strength and skill, for good or evil, and join the victim, if at all, only in our nightmares." [10]

"In the case of rape, the intersection of multiple taboos--against talking openly about trauma, about violence, about sex--causes conversational gridlock, paralyzing the would-be supporter. We lack the vocabulary for expressing appropriate concern, and we have no social conventions to ease the awkwardness. Ronald de Sousa (1987) has written persuasively about the importance of grasping paradigm scenarios in early childhood in order to learn appropriate emotional response to situations. We do not learn--early or later in life--how to react to a rape. What typically results from this ignorance is bewilderment on the part of victims and silence on the part of others, often the result of misguided caution." [12]

"Those who haven't been sexually violated may have difficulty understanding why women who survive assault often blame themselves, and may wrongly attribute it to a sex-linked trait of masochism or lack of self-esteem. They don't know that it can be less painful to believe that you did something blameworthy than it is to think that you live in a world where you can be attacked at any time, in any place, simply because you are a woman." [13]

"Unlike survivors of wars or earthquakes, who inhabit a common shattered world, rape victims face the cataclysmic destruction of their world alone, surrounded by people who find it hard to understand what's so distressing." [15] 

Outliving Oneself 

"Piecing together a dismembered self seems to require a process of remembering in which speech and affect converge. This working through, or remastering of, the traumatic memory involves going from being the medium of someone else's (the torturer's) speech to being the subject of one's own. The results of the process of working through reveal the performative role of speech acts int covering from trauma: saying something about a traumatic memory does something to it." [56]

""To a large extent, we're the keepers of each other's stories, and the shape of these stories has unfolded in part from our interwoven accounts. Human beings don't only search for meanings, they are themselves units of meaning; but we can mean something only within in the fabric of later significations" (Eva Hoffman, 1989, 279). Trauma, however, unravels whatever meaning we've found and wove ourselves into, and so listening to survivors' stories is, as Lawrence Langer describes reading and writing about the Holocaust, "an experience in unlearning" [58]

"In "Jurisprudence and Gender," Robin West (1988) discusses the tension within feminist theory between, on one hand, the desire for connection and fear of alienation and, on the other hand, the desire for autonomy and fear of invasion. Once one acknowledges the relational nature of autonomy, however, this apparent tension can be resolved by noting that the main reason all of us have to fear violent intrusions by others is that they severely impair our ability to be connected to humanity in ways we value." [61]

"The fundamentally relational character of the self is also highlighted by the dependence of survivors on others attitudes toward them in the aftermath of trauma. Victims of rape and other forms of torture often report drastically altered sense of self-worth, resulting from their degrading treatment. That even one person--one's assailant--treated one as worthless can, at leas temporarily, undo an entire lifetime of self-esteem. This effect is magnified by prolonged exposure to degradation, in a social and historical context in which the group to which one belongs is despised. Survivors of trauma recover to a greater or lesser extent depending on others' responses to them after the trauma." [63-64] 

"What is the goal of the survivor? Ultimately, it is not to transcend the trauma, not to solve the dilemmas of survival, but simply to endure." [64]