One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Elizabeth Smart: How Do We Judge Other’s Trauma? June 10, 2011

Brian Mitchell, the man who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart when she was 14, held her captive and raped her repeatedly was sentenced to life in prison.   Previously Mitchell’s lawyer argued that he should receive a lighter sentence because Smart is a “survivor” and hadn’t suffered “extreme psychological injury.”   What Elizabeth suffered is something no one should ever have to experience and it is interesting that the defense felt they had the right to judge another person’s level of trauma or suffering.  The defense team for Mitchell may not have intended to hurt Elizabeth Smart but

President George W. Bush greets Elizabeth Smart and her mother Lois in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in 2003

to insinuate that there is one specific way to respond to trauma or that because she has healed and is moving forward with her life, that she didn’t suffer intense emotional damage at the hands of Mitchell is both insensitive and ignorant.  Despite the fact that Elizabeth has remained collected throughout the trial and relied heavily on her faith to try to heal from this trauma, does not mean that she won’t be triggered later on or that her suffering is somehow less legitimate.  Smart may be in one of the various stages of Rape Trauma Syndrome-a form of PTSD recognized by the medical community as similar to the symptoms soldiers experience after battle.  Rape Trauma Syndrome has four stages:

1. Anticipatory Stage: When  a survivor starts experiencing feelings of unease or discontent, realizing something is not right.

2. Impact: When a survivor does things that don’t mke sense to self or others.

3. Reconstruction: This stage can last for years and can be a range of responses and emotions but anger is most common.  This can be a spring board for action (seeking justice or receiving counseling) but can also be turned inward.

4. Resolution: The stage is when a survivor assimilates the act of violence into their overall life experience and it no longer hinders them from being able to live their lives.  Getting to this stage can be greatly hindered or helped by the kind of  support a survivor receives in their healing.

(This definition of Rape Trauma Syndrome was taken from the Orange County Rape Crisis Center)

We don’t know what stage Elizabeth Smart is in in her recovery process, but regardless of her ability to cope with this trauma, her struggle and pain throughout this experience deserves support, not judgment about her reaction.  As Smart stated in her testimony, Mitchell’s actions were intentional and traumatic and he deserves the sentence he received.  Despite her moving forward with her life and beginning to heal, she suffered traumas which can never be undone.  Victims of any kind of abuse deserve support, regardless of their reaction to the trauma they’ve experienced.  No 0ne has  right to judge the way a victim responds to abuse.   At FVPC we believe in fully supporting and advocating for survivors.   If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse call our hotline at 919-929-7122 to speak to a trained advocate.


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