WiSTEM Blog Series

The Color of Sexual Violence with Dr. Gladys Smith

Welcome to WiSTEM Blog Series. This series will be curated from graduate students within our community. If you’d like to be featured, please contact us with your writing!

Author: Kaci Martin, Molecular Genetics and Genomics (MGG) PhD student

  I want to start by thanking Dr. Gladys Smith, GALNACS, ABBGS, and WiSTEM for the opportunity to have these difficult conversations in a safe space. I have the listed resources at the end of this summary for anyone seeking support.

“Minorities do not have the luxury of breaking down” and this is something that is apparent throughout history. Take slavery as an example. Black women were assaulted by white men and by black men, due to internalized oppression, but unable to take space to feel the pain of the assault. Has this led to stereotypes such as “a strong black woman?” Do stereotypes such as this play a part in who is targeted in sexual assault? Do they affect the rate in which someone reports assault?

Dr. Gladys Smith broke down the statistics for risk of sexual assault in each ethnic group, but I want to preface that these numbers may not represent the total story. As a large note, it is highly likely incestual assaults are massively underreported. Cultural views, household values, and individual experiences can all affect the rate at which someone may report. “Will they believe me if I tell them?” “Will anything happen if I report this?” “Will I become this story?” “How many times do I need to relive this trauma by telling my story over and over?”

An important note, not all assault leads to PTSD. Trauma, or even stress, occur to all of us. One major stressor that minority groups may face is the pain of social exclusion. How often have you walked into a room and taken note of how many people look like you? Oppression, internalized oppression, and microaggressions can be stressors that push an individual out of their window of tolerance. Throughout the day a person ebbs and flows between parasympathetic, relaxation, and sympathetic, fight or flight, reactions. If a person becomes stuck in one of these modes, borderline on the window of tolerance or pushed past, it can become a trauma and lead to PTSD. Being stuck in parasympathetic can become a frozen response, like a depression state. A person stuck in the sympathetic state could be anxious and lead to PTSD.

There are two kinds of pain, as explained by the book My Grandmother’s Hand by Resmaa Menakem, clean pain and dirty pain. Clean pain is ripping off the bandaid and feeling the pain, so that growth can occur. Dirty pain is covering up the pain, perhaps with alcohol or drugs, avoiding the problem. To overcome the trauma, the event must be felt. Someone in STEM may be prone to living in their head and thinking, but there must be a point where that person can come out of their head and feel the emotions. Some techniques that can help may be EMDR, Somatic experiences, CBT, DBT, and mindfulness. Some therapies may utilize positive talk, drawing, and tapping. These are ways to ground someone if the emotions and thoughts become too much. Breathe. Look around the room. The room is a safe space.

Below are some support groups and resources for sexual violence. These resources can be for anyone who has experienced an assault, approximately 1/3 women and 1/6 men at risk, or for anyone, like a partner of someone who has been assaulted. Keep in mind, a partner is not a savior. A person who has experienced a traumatic event has to have the space to heal on their own.

April is sexual assault awareness month – please consider attending some of the coming events. More information to come. I also recommend looking into The One Billion project. Some suggested readings include: Half The Sky by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof, Decolonizing Trauma by Renee Linklater, and My Grandmother’s Hand by Resmaa Menakem.

Resources list

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