Ever wondered why a victim of rape seems to be unable to break free of her captors? Why children change their statement on child sexual abuse in court? Why victims of domestic violence are unable to walk out on their partners? By Understanding traumagenics, your perspective on victim shaming and blaming shift…when our thinking in that space changes ,we help them heal and move forward to powerful spaces ahead.

Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is a global issue that most nations are dealing with today. Increased online presence has made children more easily accessible to predators. It affects children of all ages, race, religion, backgrounds, socioeconomic status etc. Its impacts are enormous, both in terms of the physical and psychological health and overall well-being. As human beings we are programmed to be resilient. And most of the victims bounce back, but traumatic experiences leave scars on the mind, emotions and that further affects the individual’s behaviours. We tend to make sense of any event- good or bad, that happens to us. Therefore, to cope with anything bad that happens to us, our mind comes up with justifications such as ‘I must be a bad person, that’s why it happened to me’ or ‘I must have done something that provoked the perpetrator’ etc. In all, the individual blames themselves for what happened and continues to live with this explanation, though the fault is never theirs.

Traumatic stress leads to psychological readjustment. According to the Traumagenic model of CSA, the individual undergoes a series of experiences, from feeling betrayed to stigmatised, feeling powerless and sexualisation. Coping and making sense of these experiences precipitate into intense maladaptive behaviours which range from withdrawal, agitation, aggression, mood swings, depression, extreme anxiety, confusion, substance abuse and other behavioural issues.
The emotional and psychological effects of Trauma are often conflated to differential diagnoses that are far more pathologizing and may lead to further traumatic experiences of oppression and systemic stigmatization. The misdiagnoses and conflated diagnoses may include Bipolar disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Intermittent explosive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depression/Anxiety etc, with many a times ADHD as comorbid diagnosis. These labels along with psychiatric medication add to the already existing emotional burden, decreasing the overall functional ability of the child.

In cases where the perpetrator is the parent or a caregiver on whom the child is dependent for its survival, the victim may exhibit lower levels of awareness or might find it difficult to recall the traumatic experience, this phenomenon happens as an avoidance coping strategy to avoid confrontation with the betraying caregiver. This is termed ‘Betrayal Trauma’ and has been helpful in explaining that ‘Betrayal’ is one of the most important factors that increases the severity of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms experienced by victims of CSA and rape. (Traumagenic Dynamics Model, Finkelhor & Browne, 1985)

In some cases, the victim develops an emotional attachment with the perpetrator that is experienced as venerating gratitude for being allowed to survive. This psychological phenomenon is labelled as ‘Trauma Bonding’ or ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ (Reid et al. 2013). This is found in victims of intimate partner violence, child abuse, hostage situations and human trafficking. Esp. in cases of child abuse, the intermittent exploitative abuse alternating with positive or neutral intervals, leads to boundary confusion about what constitutes kindness, intimacy, safety, and love, and this confusion results in an emotional bond with the exploitative perpetrator (Reid, Haskell, Dillahunt-Aspillaga, & Thor, 2013).This to some extent also explains the reason for recantation in child abuse cases.
•Freyd, J.J. (2008) Betrayal trauma. In G. Reyes, J.D. Elhai, & J.D.Ford (Eds) Encyclopedia of Psychological Trauma. (p. 76). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
•Kelley LP, Weathers FW, Mason EA, Pruneau GM. Association of life threat and betrayal with posttraumatic stress disorder symptom severity. J Trauma Stress. 2012 Aug;25(4):408-15. doi: 10.1002/jts.21727. Epub 2012 Jul 20. PMID: 22821682.
•The Body keeps the score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD

Article By : Deepti Gurav
Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student,
California School of Professional Psychology
Alliant International University, San Diego , CA
Former Psychologist at Arogyadham,
Station Health Organisation
Naval Base , Kochi.