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Piers Morgan belittles rape survivors

Piers Morgan, the provocative and tiresome journalist, caused outrage this week when he appeared to accuse Lady Gaga and Madonna of lying about having been raped. Certainly questioning the veracity of Gaga’s reports to have PTSD as a result of what happened to her, Morgan took to Twitter to challenge her claims.

Not just a military matter

PTSD is perhaps most associated with responses by soldiers to traumatic events they witness or participate in in the battlefield. However, any incident where somebody’s life is threatened or they experience profound sexual violation can cause the symptoms and distress associated with the condition.

Rape is one of the most traumatic experiences a person can go through, yet it is frighteningly common, especially among women. Between 200,000 and 700,000 American women are raped every year, and In England and Wales one in five women aged 16-59 have experienced some form of sexual violence. 1/3 of them go on to develop rape-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

It is not surprising that a violent or coercive sexual attack on a woman’s body and mind can have this kind of impact on their long-term mental health. The impact can be massive, leaving victims unable to manage their day-to-day lives and feeling frightened or threatened, even in situations where there is no danger.

Hyper-vigilance, where someone with PTSD experiences a heightened state of sensory sensitivity and increased anxiety, can mean that rape survivors are never able to fully relax. Perhaps needing to have the light on at all times, and perceiving threats in every noise or movement, this PTSD symptom is exhausting and can lead to considerable stress.

Re-experiencing the trauma of rape is another common PTSD symptom. The slightest sound, smell, word or sensation can trigger a traumatic recall of the event in the form of flashbacks, which are intrusive and very difficult to control.

Other symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Social withdrawal, where people with the condition avoid social situations
  • Physiological symptoms of arousal and / or depression
  • Avoidance behaviours, where people with the condition avoid anything that may trigger traumatic memories or associations
  • Involuntary and distressing recall of the events
  • Nightmares and difficulty sleeping
  • An exaggerated startle response.

Rape and not reporting

The other aspect of Madonna and Lady Gaga’s experiences that Morgan ‘called out’ was their failure to report their rapes to the authorities. Gaga, in a move that wowed many, offered to discuss the topic with Morgan.

There are many reasons that women don’t report rapes, and views like those of Morgan’s are a key part of understanding why. When survivors are met with scepticism and criticism rather than belief and support, during a period of intense distress and trauma, they are unlikely to take the matter further.

When they have already seen friends or family members or media personalities being treated like dirt because of making rape accusations, a context has already been created that makes them wary of telling anybody, let alone the police.

And when rape conviction statistics are as dire as they currently are, and when the police’s reputation for dealing with sexual assault accusations is seriously lacking, there often seems little point in bothering.

Not reporting a rape does not mean it did not happen. It means the world conspires to silence rape victims and to keep the truth quiet.

I mean, it’s not like being accused of rape does any notable damage, when the President Elect of the United States stands accused of multiple sexual assaults – and admitted ‘grabbing women by the pussy’ – and still gets the biggest job in the world. In the meantime, those who accuse men of rape gain what, exactly? Vilification and personal attacks, especially online.

Survivors have nothing to gain from a false accusation. Accused rapists have everything to gain from a false denial.

Rape culture and the Trump era

Donald Trump is choosing people to make up his cabinet, and his selections are not exactly reassuring. Whether it’s that they have more money between them than a third of American households combined or the unquestionable dominance of white, heterosexual men, this is not a group of Americans who represent the people. He has also chosen some notable anti-LGBT characters for the positions on top.

Delving deeper, his choices for the top jobs get even more disturbing still, especially in terms of the atmosphere they are going to create for women in the country. Three of his picks have been accused of physical or sexual abuse against women and, combining this with Trump’s deplorable attitudes, the environment is a dangerous one. On top of this, almost all members of his cabinet are anti-abortion and several have even taken action to make contraception more difficult to obtain.

#Ibelieveher

Rather than using her reports of PTSD to promote her latest album, is it not conceivable that Lady Gaga was using her unique voice to raise awareness of the condition and promote potentially life-saving discussion amongst her fans? On her own website, she wrote, “I seek to raise awareness that this mental illness affects all kinds of people, including our youth. No one’s invisible pain should go unnoticed.”

Rather than starting from a position of cynicism and doubt, we must believe women when they come forward and report that they have been sexually assaulted. Similarly, if somebody is willing to open up and speak about their experiences of mental ill health, attacking them is wrong.

Being anything other than supportive will simply mean that others – those who need to speak out themselves – stay quiet, don’t rock the boat, and remain isolated and alone.

Photo: TJ Sengel/Creative Commons

Philippa Willitts

Philippa Willitts is a British freelance writer who specialises in writing about disability, women's issues, social media and tech. She also enjoys covering politics and LGBT-related topics. She has written for the Guardian, the Independent, New Statesman, Channel 4 News, Access Magazine, xoJane and many more publications. She can be found on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.