Neurobiology of Rape and Sexual Assault: Let’s Talk About It

In honor of US National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and for my 100th blog post, I wanted to cover a topic that is really important to me. This will be the first in my Let’s Talk About It series, looking at complicated or serious topics and exploring it in pieces a post at a time.

Today I want to talk about the neurobiology of trauma, specifically in regards to rape or sexual assault. This is a complicated topic that many others cover better than me so I’m going to do as much of an overview as I can, and because there’s a lot to cover I will only touch on pieces.

TRIGGER WARNING FOR ANYONE WHO HAS SURVIVED RAPE OR SEXUAL ASSAULT: I will be talking about what happens in the body and brain during trauma, so it’s possible some wording might be triggering. This focuses on hormonal reactions and the chemistry of the brain. Please do not read further if you think this will be detrimental for you.

Regarding this post:

First, you might notice me switch between victim, survivor, and victim/survivor. There is no specific reason for where I use each. The term ‘survivor’ is what I’ve seen preferred by those who have survived assaults and they are part of my target audience; however, another large part of my target audience is people who have never experienced an assault and who do not understand why things happen the way they do, and oftentimes that demographic uses the term ‘victim.’

Second, you should know that there are a lot of misconceptions about rape and sexual assault, and this feeds into rape culture. Two main myths of rape/sexual assault can be explained by neurobiology and very human responses to trauma so those are the two I will cover in this post. There are a lot of other myths and misconceptions so if you are interested in me talking more about this topic, let me know.

  1. MYTH NUMBER ONE: It isn’t rape if the person didn’t say no/fight back.

  2. MYTH NUMBER TWO: If someone says they were raped but their story doesn’t make sense, it means they’re lying or covering something up.

Other myths that could be covered in more detail if anyone wants:

  • If a person is raped when they are drugged or drunk it’s their fault and/or it isn’t actually rape (untrue; in many places you can’t legally consent if you’re under the influence of anything)
  • People lie about being raped all the time (actually, only about 2-8% do, compared to 66% who don’t report to authorities for fear that they won’t be believed)
  • You have to worry most about being raped by a stranger (not accurate; over 2/3 of rape or sexual assault is committed by someone the person knows)
  • Men can’t be raped, especially by a woman, because men always want sex (this is a huge topic so in short, this myth is completely untrue and pisses me off every time I see it said or implied)
  • Everyone is just as likely to be raped as anyone else (another huge topic, but: no. While some forms of sexual assault may have similar percentages for different demographics, there are some statistics and likelihood of vulnerability based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, age, and more)

NEUROBIOLOGY AND TRAUMA

Myths #1 and #2 listed in red above can very easily be explained by the way the brain and body respond to trauma. Important facts to know right away that I will explain in detail beneath the cut:

  • It isn’t fight or flight– it’s fight, flight, or freeze
  • The hormones that are released at the time of trauma determine the response the victim/survivor will have, and the survivor has no control over this response
  • Memories are recorded completely differently in traumatic situations vs normal situations
  • A percentage of rape victims/survivors are literally paralyzed by their own body during the assault

Disclaimer: I gathered this information through research in multiple sources but especially from three nationally recognized subject matter experts. I listed their names, credentials, and links at the bottom of this post. I highly recommend you check them out if you find this topic interesting at all.

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Please read: addressing an ongoing issue of harassment

I know this is unusual for me, but I have to say something completely serious. I also need to say upfront that if, during the course of reading this, you realize you know who I’m talking about DO NOT NAME HER. DO NOT HARASS HER. This post is not about continuing the cycle of cyber-harassment. It’s about getting out the truth so that people can make informed decisions. I don’t want anyone else to be hurt over this, including her.

First, if you don’t know me well it’s important that you understand me as a person so you understand that this is not some sort of mean message trying to hurt someone because I’m evil or misled.

ThisiswhoIam. I am an INFP – T person who avoids/dislikes lies, manipulation, drama, any of that. I don’t present myself one way online and act completely differently elsewhere. The worst I ever do is get really upset about a topic and rant about it to a friend, but as I’ve said in a post the reason for that ranting is almost always going to be because I’m upset that other people are hurt and I can’t help them– or because I want to understand something so I can help, but I don’t understand it. That last linked post was actually not about this situation– that post was about something else entirely that was making me very angry and I am not angry at all in this post– but the basic idea that I will speak up if it gets to a certain point is true.

Santino and I have been cyber-harassed for the past two years by someone who once claimed to be our friend. If it were just someone targeting us privately, I wouldn’t say anything publicly about that because it doesn’t affect others.

But the problem is, she has been telling outright lies to the point of damaging reputations, and she has also drawn the ICoS fandom into it by targeting friends and readers. Santino and I interact genuinely with our readers and as a result over the years, some have become friends. This person has been targeting anyone who is perceived to be close to us and has told them sometimes manipulated truth and sometimes outright lies, for whatever reason she has.

This is not a misunderstanding where two people miscommunicated and there was a falling out, or where we are somehow being mean and targeting her because she said something negative about us/vented one time to one person. I would never speak out about something like that because everyone has the right to their opinion and I’m not going to get mad at someone if they express it. I support diverse opinions; it’s what makes the world interesting.

This is a situation where multiple people who are from different groups and never talk to each other have individually come up to us to warn us of the behavior because they were concerned or alarmed by the level of slander/libel being committed. This is someone who has very purposefully been trying to ruin friendships, turn people against each other, spread personal information given in confidence, and we also strongly believe has spammed friends with anon hate mail on tumblr and engaged in other inappropriate behavior to retaliate against people who didn’t believe her. There have also been some strong allegations she’s made about perceived bad behavior that didn’t exist the way she says it did.

It is also important to note that we have tried talking directly to this person in the past about the activity but she denied it all, and then later there was an attempt to give her a second chance– but the result was continued escalation and her doctoring emails to create her own “proof” of allegations. Including the very email that was sent trying to make peace with her. We have screenshots, emails, and other proof to show her lies compared to reality. It has gotten so bad that we had to seek legal advice about the libel, and were advised to no longer communicate privately with this individual for any purpose.

There is a lot that could be said on this topic but for now I am keeping this short simply to warn others that this is happening. I am speaking out now after nearly 2 years (this started in 2013) because it’s become obvious this person will not stop on her own, and because she is hurting other people in the process.

Because I’m an honest person who therefore is very consistent in the way I act, I imagine once she sees this post she will come up with reasons for how she is still unfairly being victimized, for reasons that don’t go against my personality and how I’m known to interact/act.

I imagine she will tell people that Santino made me post this because I am too nice to have done this on my own. He didn’t. I am someone who doesn’t want to hurt others, but I also do not condone bullying or hurtful behavior. Because of that, I wanted to say something about this publicly a long time ago because it upset me that people were being hurt by this, and he was the one who asked me not to because he thought if we gave her more chances she would stop. She might say that I was manipulated by people who want to make us mad at her, but the only manipulation that has occurred has been on her part. The facts speak for themselves, as do the screenshots and proof of actual conversations from multiple, independent sources.

She might also try to say something like how Santino and my friendship is fractured and somehow that is related to this–I don’t know how she might try to spin that tale, but I know she’s tried to tell people something similar in the past and that she allegedly was my advocate. That isn’t true now and none of that claim is true for the past.

She might come up with all sorts of other reasons for why I posted this. But there isn’t some dark, malicious, conspiracy theory reason for this post. It’s exactly for the reasons I’ve stated. This person has been harassing us, our friends, readers, and peers for two years. We’ve given her chances to stop and she hasn’t, so now I’m letting everyone else know it’s happening so they can directly ask us to get the full story, and develop their own opinions with all of the information instead of what is probably a very incomplete, and possibly completely fabricated, version.

I’m not telling people what to think or what to do. I just want you to know about this so your lack of awareness on the topic isn’t taken advantage of by someone who is using it to their own advantage.

My true hope for this post is that the person in question will finally stop what she is doing so everything can calm down and no one else has to be affected or pulled in. Because not only does it upset me that she’s hurting everyone else in this, I have to imagine that this behavior (constant rumination, obsessing, lying) is also not healthy for her.

In short: don’t take rumors at face value. ASK US. We want you to have the full story.

Thank you for reading this far into the post. I wish I didn’t have to post about this, but unfortunately this person has given me no choice. For anyone reading this, I hope you have a good day and I hope you have not been affected by this previously and won’t be in the future. Brightest of blessings to you and yours.

Writing: Sex (and other) scene tips

This is from tumblr… since I wrote so much I thought I should post it here. Also in case anyone finds this useful.

anonsextips

lol I have no idea… I didn’t realize those scenes were seen as well-written ones until we started getting feedback from readers that they thought they were really good. I guess for me, personally, I don’t differentiate between topics; to me, a sex scene is dealt with exactly the same way as any other scene in the way it’s approached. I’m not sure if that’s a common thought process but it seems sometimes when I read books that authors have some difference in their mind between them which I think affects the writing of it, and thus the reading of it.

I don’t know if it helps but I wrote (as always, a lot) about the sort of stuff I usually do/think about. I also included some excerpts from ICoS (DC Evenfall volumes I and II) at the end to try to illustrate a little better what I was talking about in comparison.

I suppose the tl;dr answer would be that I personally treat all scenes the same in terms of wanting it to be meaningful to the overall story, but I do write normal scenes differently than emotionally-charged scenes (including sex scenes) by trying to make the reader feel more like they’re actually there in emotionally-charged scenes, experiencing it too, so they understand why these scenes might affect the character so much.

Anyway, these are my thoughts/tips from my perspective as a writer (and also a reader) in no particular order:

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(Not So Very) Important Conversations: Lexington and PA

lexingtondecision

lol after I saw this I spent…  I’m not sure. On and off over an hour or something, trying to find these old maps I had done where I had sketched out a vaguepossible area where Lexington might be situated based on the roads we used in the story. But I can’t find it, and it was never official anyway; just a general thing for my own curiosity. So maybe it’s better I didn’t find it anyway.

Maybe it was somewhere around Harrisburg or between Harrisburg and Johnstown? I honestly don’t remember. We don’t have a specific place we imagined it so even that general guess could be off.

Neither of us specifically remember why PA was originally chosen, but it was most likely because that’s the area where Neulan was set (from our RPG called District 9 in the early 2000′s; we’d made up a fictitious city named Neulan City for that. That’s the RPG Boyd, Viv, Ced and Lou come from). Since in the beginning we were just writing things for ourselves to pass the time, and we didn’t want to spend a bajillion years figuring out things that weren’t going to matter, we probably went with PA by default.

We might have also chosen that because Sonny would know the general area well enough for us to be able to describe things, because I’ve very rarely been to the Northeast and never for more than several hours so I would’ve been useless. But Northeast seemed like a better place than the Midwest that I would’ve known.

I do think its location and it being a more low-profile state make it a good place. It’s semi-close to DC and other areas like that, so it still is accessible to government organizations, but it would also be far enough away that its secrecy could be more easily kept than if, say, it had been in NYC or some higher profile city/state.

As for why all the names are fictitious— it’s because we wanted people to think that this kind of thing could happen in any city in the country and not be tied to imagining just one specific area with certain landmarks. And because it gave us more latitude in creating the city in a manner that made sense for the Agency and Johnson’s Pharmaceuticals and all that.

Plus, naming things is fun! It was fun naming the neighborhoods, ngl.

As a bonus side note of information: for years and years, the city the Agency was set in actually did not have a name. There was no Lexington as a name. We did that to really reinforce that idea that it could happen anywhere. But as we wrote more of the series, it started to get super awkward not having a name for the city when they were in other cities like Carson or wherever.

So, we decided we had to come up with a name for it.

Want to know how? I pulled out my giant ass atlas of the US, flipped to the back where it listed every single city on the maps, and skimmed the names of real US cities to get inspiration. I wrote down the names I liked the most, and then double-checked that none of those names were already a city in Pennsylvania.

…HA. I just found the email thread where we figured this out. Apparently I looked through my North American Road Atlas on July 13 to July 14, 2010, when I couldn’t sleep one night. One of our concerns was we wanted to make sure the name wouldn’t sound too small town, so it would fit the image of a sizeable city, and we wanted to try to stick with one name if possible to make it easier.

A list of names I had toward the end was “Grays Harbor, Normandy, Northfield, Northampton, Sussex, Winchester, Lexington, Bridgeport, Olympia, Waitsburg (sp?), Brooklyn, Richmond, Winthrop, Queenstown, Hillsborough, Aurora, Edgewater”

Sonny said we shouldn’t use any that were too well-known already. He said his favorite from the list was Lexington.

To which my reply was:

“Grays Harbor and Lexington were my favorites from the list, and Grays Harbor sounded a bit too much like it could be from a soap opera. so yeah Lexington by itself is my favorite too from the list “

And that was the last email in that thread so apparently that’s how we decided on Lexington lol

ATA: Boyd’s (Bad) Advice #4: Seducing your lover

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I kept having problems with the really long pictures I used to do not showing up properly so I split this one into 3 pages. Hopefully that helps.

Study Date Boyd should probably stop trying to get Hot Mess and Forever Emo to ever do anything, tbh…

PS: Help me decide–I still need names! Right now it’s:

  • Study Date Boyd
  • Hot Mess Boyd (or Undercovers Boyd or Under Covers Boyd)
  • Forever Emo Boyd (or Kill Me Now Boyd, Suicide Alley Boyd, Mo’ Emo Boyd, or…??)
  • NO IDEA on our Fade friend. I just call him Srsface for now but he needs a legit name. I’m also trying to decide if I should have the black line show or not on him, because that’s technically a spoiler for people who aren’t through the series. That’s why one page he has it and the other he doesn’t… I wanted to see which looked better. Thoughts?