Category Archives: Rape/Sexual Assault

Saying No to Rape: The Steubenville Rape Case—Happening every Friday Night Across America?

The recent Steubenville rape case brings up some very disturbing issues regarding the attitude in this culture of males in this culture seeing females as objects of sexual gratification and consumption that they can abuse and prey upon—urinating, forcing oral sex, digital penetration and rape on—all because she drank too much and lost her ability to protect herself, fight back or even say no. 

In the Steubenville case the girl who was raped is said to have became drunk at a party held by one of the assistant football coaches—a party which she left totally inebriated and vomiting.  This alone begs questions of criminal culpability for an adult member of the community—a coach—who was reportedly serving alcohol to minors and failing to protect those who became drunk as a result. 

Moreover, the Steubenville boys who committed the crime so strongly believed they were immune to being held to task that they bragged about, texted, tweeted and photographed evidence of their crime—cruel actions that thankfully later incriminated them. 

But these boys were not the only ones lacking in empathy and compassion—none of her peers who learned of it through social media—even while it was ongoing, and afterward did anything to stop or report it to the authorities.  Even when adults learned of it—they did nothing.  And perhaps most shocking of all—the perpetrators allegedly believed their coach would protect them, versus her, and make their crime “go away”.

While most of us want to see this as an aberration, the truth is—as the District Attorney reminded us—this is a phenomena that is all too tragically happening every Friday night and perhaps every night, all across America. 

We still live in a culture where boys and men believe that a “mistake” made by a woman of being alone, unguarded, dressed sexually or inebriated allows them to dehumanize and sexually assault her.  And girls also apparently believe it—as too many of them wake up the next morning traumatized from what happened—and too terrified to press charges the next day—fearing they versus their rapists will be blamed for getting drunk. 

Even today in our modern society young girls still fear that they will be blamed and labeled as at fault, and even as a “slut” for having put themselves in a vulnerable situation.  And they know that we still live in a culture where they will be put through a process—just as the young girl in Steubenville was—where wide swathes of the community will lack compassion and empathy for the victim and instead close ranks around and protect the rapists.  Girls and women in our society know that we still live in a culture where parents, teachers and men and boys still believe it’s okay to rape—when a girl is vulnerable and unable to say no—thinking of it as a “boys will be boys” or “men will be men” phenomena.

Steubenville is not an aberration.  Other cases very similar to it are well documented and countless others never see the light of day. 

It’s time our society rallied around rape victims—as the wider country did this time in behalf of the Steubenville victim—to stand up for the rights of girls and women to be vulnerable in states of drunkenness, undress, solitariness and in any other way unprotected—to still be protected by a community that says an unequivocal, loud, resounding and firm NO to excusing rape and sexual assault of any human being—man, woman or child—under any circumstances. 

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the Georgetown University Medical School and author of Fetal Abduction: The True Story of Multiple Personalities and Murder and Talking to Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-Social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers & “Martyrs”


The Jodi Arias Trial & Dissociative Amnesia for Sex – the Intersection of PTSD & Dissociation with Child Abuse, Rape and the Carrying out of Crimes

The Jodi Arias murder case in which she claims prior abuse and failure to remember crucial aspects of her crime have brought the issues of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dissociation—concepts that are confusing to many—into national attention leaving many bewildered about how traumas, dissociation and crime may all be linked together.  

Oftentimes PTSD is thought of as a disorder in which one cannot forget a trauma.  And in many cases of PTSD, the trauma—having been burned deeply into memory—is constantly relived in intensely detailed and disturbing traumatic flashbacks.  This is the most common manifestation of PTSD and what we have become accustomed to seeing portrayed in movies of trauma victims such as veterans perhaps suffering flashbacks of combat for instance.

There is however, also another side to PTSD and that is when a dissociative amnesia occurs in response to a trauma that is too horrible to make its way into the normal conscious narrative. This often happens for rape victims or others whose bodies were literally penetrated in an assault, accident or crime——they were so overwhelmed in every sense that their mind failed to record all the details of what happened to them, or locked it away so deeply that they are unlikely to get it back except in the safety of treatment—thus they suffer from a dissociative amnesia.  They cannot remember everything that happened—the trauma is completely blocked from consciousness and locked away in the mind—in what psychologists label a dissociative amnesia.  This is less common than recurring flashbacks but also occurs in those who have been deeply traumatized and suffer from PTSD.

A case of such an effect that comes to mind is Lorena Bobbit whose defense team I served on.  After separating from her violently abusive husband who had threatened to continue raping her —into perpetuity—after their divorce she was again raped by him one last time.  So horrified by the traumatic experience of rape and the fact that he apparently believed he could do as he liked with her, she stood up from the rape and suddenly experienced a flood of all the other abuse he had subjected her to over a long period of time—all episodes that she normally kept locked up in her mind.  And during that overwhelming episode of traumatic recall—seeing a knife on the counter—she took it and removed “his weapon” ensuring he would never rape her again.  In those moments she moved into a dissociative amnesia—and drove away from their home in such a state—only gradually “coming to” as she regained safety at which time she recalled both the rape and the crime.  In this case a brutal sexual assault—following many others that had happened before it—caused a brief dissociative amnesia in which a chronic abuse victim enacted a crime and fled from it.

In addition to these responses to trauma there is yet another type of dissociation—dissociative identity disorder—that occurs in childhood victims of repetitive and inescapable traumas such as chronic sexual or violent abuse during early development.  In these cases the child may create an entire sequestered personality—or personalities—that hold the traumas, with complete or partial amnesias occurring between the personalities.  This used to be referred to as multiple personality disorder and is now referred to as dissociative identity disorder, and is believed to be rare. 

I witnessed dissociative identity disorder in Annette Morales Rodriguez (and later wrote a book about it—Fetal Abduction) who admitted to me while in jail that she was both a rape and sexual abuse victim and that she had managed until just before her crime to keep all the memories of her rape and sexual abuse separated from her conscious awareness by having two personalities.  However later in life when severely triggered by stressful events, her second personality “Lara” emerged with a vengeance and enacted a murder for which she had no conscious recall.  Tragically the abuse had gone full circle and an abuse victim had in a severely dissociative state also become a victimizer.

So, is it possible to have a sexual episode engender dissociative responses and amnesia as Jody Arias’ defense team is claiming?  Yes—I have seen this many times but only in those who endured rape or chronic sexual abuse. 

Once, for instance a victim of childhood sodomy told me that she had complete amnesia and could not believe it had occurred, even when her mother presented her with hospital records of the event.  Likewise when I questioned her further she was horrified to realize that she “disappeared” and had no record whatsoever of any sexual act that she had ever taken part in.  She could, for instance tell me that she had sex (with her loving husband) a week previously and she could tell me where it started and what happened before and afterward but she was terrified to realize, with my questioning, that she was at a complete loss to recall anything that had happened during the actual sexual encounter.  And this was true throughout her life.

Whether Jodi Arias is one of these cases I will refrain from commenting as I have only followed her case peripherally.  But is it hypothetically possible that the threat of abuse following chronic abuse, or the act of sex following the experience of abuse or rape, or killing in the act of self-defense could engender a dissociative amnesia? Yes.  Is this the case with Jodi Arias?  I don’t know but I would comment that her seemingly need to over-kill her claimed abuser disturbs me—it’s almost as if she didn’t believe she could stop his life—and that makes me wonder.  

That said I would add that with the societally denied—but sadly true ubiquity of child sexual abuse, rape and violence occurring in our culture—I am never totally surprised to run into persons who have rather severe PTSD, dissociative amnesias and dissociative disorders.  Rape and sexual abuse are very terrifying experiences and victims are often silenced by threats and continued abuse.  As a result some repeatedly re-experience their traumas as painful flashbacks and bodily arousal with triggers to recalling the trauma; others bury such traumas deeply in their mind with dissociative amnesias that they take many measures to keep buried until they are safe enough to work through them—if that ever occurs—and still others bury childhood traumatic experiences by splitting their consciousness into personality fragments that have strong dissociative and amnestic barriers between them.

What the Jody Arias case should make us all realize is that when rape and child abuse do occur—and they do often occur—the victims can be plagued with traumatic flashbacks, dissociative amnesias and even fragmented personalities and like Lorena Bobbit, Annette Morales Rodriguez and many others—they may commit crimes.  Indeed I have even seen the same issues occurring also in individuals who volunteer as terrorists for suicide missions (see Talking to Terrorists).  We should all be working to stop rape and child abuse because not only does it create victims but sometimes those victims turn around and commit crimes making our society less safe for all of us.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the Georgetown University Medical School and author of Fetal Abduction: The True Story of Multiple Personalities and Murder and Talking to Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-Social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers & “Martyrs”