Rational responses to trauma

The Sharks Sex Saga continues. Tania Boyd, the victim’s former workmate says the victim bragged about “bedding” players, and goes on:

It was definitely consensual, absolutely.
She is saying she is still traumatised etcetera, well she wasn’t for five days, or four days at least, after that affair.
I can’t work out what’s happened. Does it take five days for it to sink in?

Tania Boyd, having not been there, can’t know whether consent was given – only if Clare – the victim – implied (to her, after the fact) that consent was given. She can’t know the truth of the situation since the victim may well have implied to her that there was consent when there wasn’t. The question of consent is a complicated one, as well – Clare might well have agreed to some sort of sexual contact, but at each escalation consent needed to be renewed, and according to her it wasn’t. There’s a good discussion of this involving our Anita at The Hand Mirror.

Ms Boyd has begged the question of consent by assuming that a woman having been raped by a lot of powerful, famous men would act in a way which someone who hadn’t had such an experience would consider rational – that is, by immediately calling a halt, or immediately reporting the events, or whatever. But trauma, especially sexual trauma, especially when it involves power imbalance, is a complicated thing, and it does screwy things to one’s sense of reason. Incidents like this can have many responses which might seem rational to the traumatised person at the time but utterly irrational to others. Bragging about the event could be seen as a form of post-purchase rationalisation; that is, Clare may have thought it started off as a good experience and perhaps even initiated it, and tried to mask the fact that it turned nasty (to herself as much as anyone) by bragging about the event. This could also be seen as a call for attention; an invitation to workmates, friends or family to offer support. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing.

As to the second statement, if Clare genuinely is traumatised now, then it follows that she was traumatised in the initial four days, it just wasn’t apparent to Tania Boyd, which isn’t really surprising at all given that her response was not one of support but of disgust. Not that that wasn’t a reasonable response – I have no idea how close these people were or what the nature of the workplace was, and bragging about one’s sexual exploits is pretty polarising.

As to the third statement, the answer to Ms Boyd’s question is – yes, these things do take time to sink in. According to a family member with extensive professional experience in this field, the median period of time between incidence and reporting of rape is eighteen and three-quarter years; viewed in this light four days seems very rapid indeed.

This story is being deployed without qualification in apologia for the men in this incident, whereas articles advocating Clare’s perspective are strongly hedged so as to make clear that the facts of the case haven’t really been established. The headline goes beyond euphemistically describing the events as `group sex’ and calls it a `romp’, for goodness’ sakes.


6 thoughts on “Rational responses to trauma

  1. Good analysis, Lew. When I first heard this, my thought was that in some way, the young woman was trying to take the appallingly bad thing that happened to her, and process it as a good thing. It looks like a standard coping tactic to me, because I have seen it before.

    and yes, I’m getting very, very tired of all the “sex romp”/ “group sex” labels. Anything but gang-rape, huh.

  2. But if you were traumatised by what allegedly happened, would you brag about it? You’ve given possiblities but it’s unclear whether your interpretation is likely. I think I would be very quiet. Indeed, I don’t think I would be able to concentrate at work and would want to stay home. But that’s just me.

    We don’t know anything about Clare. She may have suffered other events in her life to bring about her feelings of trauma. She may have been in therapy about an unrelated matter and was asked about her sexual experiences. It may have been then that she disclosed her participation in group sex.

    Research has found that we can “remember” traumatic events that never happened. Recalling an event is not proof of its existence. We may be convinced – because the alleged victim is convinced – that she was raped. But the truth may be somewhat different. We also know that some women, for whatever reason, choose to make false allegations of rape. That is sad but it’s a reality. It’s worth noting that in Clare’s case, the police didn’t lay charges.

  3. The counter to this is, the police have been quite enthusiastic in their pursuit of historic rape claims. They seem remarkably unenthusiastic about reopening this one. So perhaps there was a bit more consent than she thinks or there are just so many people saying the opposite of what she is saying that any case would be unwinnable?

    If the latter I would expect the cops to be saying so, they’ve implied similar in the past, especially if they truly thought there was a case.

    And the counter to “anything but gang rape” is “anything but that she might be mistaken/lying”.

  4. ross,

    My comments don’t speak to probability, which without access to any information or knowledge of the people involved is unknowable. My point is that her response can’t simply be ruled out summarily on the grounds that it’s `not what I’d do’ because trauma like this makes people do strange things.


    Did you read the discussion about granular, progressive, enthusiastic consent linked above? It’s the sort of difficulty in establishing the facts of consent which results in many sexual assault complaints going unprosecuted – because there’s no objective evidence, the benefit of the doubt goes to the defendants. That doesn’t necessarily mean a sex crime hasn’t taken place – just that it’s next to impossible to nail down.


  5. Lew

    No I didn;t read it but the concept is hardly unusual. We experience similar in many parts of our lives.

    The point is, the police have been in the recent past very empathetic to such cases and successfully prosecuted ones with even less evidence but similar circumstances (it appears to me). What is the difference here? Why not even carry out a more meaningful investigation? The police are adept at sending signals about what they think went on even if they can’t lay charges.

    None of that has occurred here. It makes me wonder if there is good reason to be sceptical over this woman’s story given that everyone accepts it happened in some way or another.

  6. I just want to say it dosent matter how a workmate came to the conclusion she should step up and defend these players who clearly took advantage of a young girl who obviously has deep problems to even find herself in this position. A coping mechanism is to try to make light of what happened and even dismiss the event but when the reality steps in that all these men treated you this way and took advantage of a situation that never should have happened. Having experienced rape many times from a boyfriend and realizing several months later when the reality of the events became my knowledge I can totally understand her delayed reaction. In order to survive a trauma the brain can choose to switch off if it is too much for the victim to deal with.
    Unless you have been through trauma it is unfair and cruel to judge
    A friend went through a similar situation and had just turned 16. She went to her first party with alcohol which the parents allowed and at 4am I was called to pick her up.
    It was only after going to a clinic she realized she was not responsible with the amount of alcohol in her system.
    I took her to the police and a male took her statement of events changing her wording wherever he could. I kept insisting he write the way it was described but he kept changing all wording to protect the boys involved. I rang the mother who was at the party and she told me the girl was paraletic at 8pm and asked why she didnt ring the girls parents. All she was worried about was that I would make trouble for her. How easily people dismiss harm and wrong doing to women

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