Releasing Survivor Self-Blame

WARNING: This article discusses sexual activity and a conversation with a survivor.  Please know the article is a Guest Writer and thus does not necessarily reflect the opinions and/or viewpoints of The Date Safe Project, Inc..  Please share your reactions in the “Speak Your Mind” Section of this post.

Releasing Survivor Self-Blame
Written by: Kristin E. Eisenhauer, Ph.D.

I once had a therapy client who couldn’t get past blaming herself for going to the room of the man who had sexually assaulted her.  She told me, “I went to his room knowing that we were going to hook up.  I wanted to hook up with him.  I just didn’t want to have sex.  But I went there . . . it is my fault that all this happened.”  I proceeded to use some Socratic questioning to help my client understand how she was not to blame.  Here is an approximate excerpt from our dialog.  Some details have been changed to protect the identity of this client:

Dr. E.: Does a woman have the right to go back to a guy’s room if she wants to?

Client: Yes.

Dr. E.: Does this happen all the time on college campuses?

Client: Yes.

Dr. E.: Does a woman have the right to hook up with a guy even though she does not know him well?

Client: Yes.

Dr. E.: Does this happen all the time on college campuses?

Client: Yes.

Dr. E.: Does a woman have the right to stop sexual activity whenever she wants, regardless of what sexual activities have already transpired in that situation?

Client: I guess so, but I don’t really know for sure.

Dr. E.: Okay.  Let’s look at some vivid examples to help clarify this principle.  Let’s think about a couple who has just engaged in consensual vaginal intercourse.   Now the male partner asks the female partner to try anal sex.  She says “no.”  Does a normal man go ahead and try it anyway?

Client: No!

Dr. E.: And let’s think of all the women in the world who do not like performing oral sex, although they happily engage in vaginal sex with their partners.  Does a normal man back off when his partner says that she doesn’t like to give oral sex?

Client: Of course!

Dr. E.: So let me ask the question again: Does a woman have the right to stop sexual activity whenever she wants, regardless of what sexual activities have already transpired in that situation?

Client: Yes!

Dr. E.: Okay, let’s recap:  It is normal to go back to a guy’s room.  It happens all the time.  It’s normal to hook up with a guy you barely know.  It happens all the time.  Everything you did was normal.  What is not normal is to disrespect someone’s wishes to refrain from certain sexual activities.

Client: Oh my God.  I get it.

I am sharing this exchange with you all because survivor self-blame is incredibly common.  In fact, it far exceeds the blame that society places on survivors of sexual assault.  I hope this exchange helps survivors to re-examine and release some of the self-blame that they may harbor.

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Kristin E. Eisenhauer, Ph.D., is a Licensed Psychologist at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Please share your thoughts and responses to this article with Kristin in the “Speak Your Mind” section below.

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