The V Word

Advocating to end sexual and domestic violence


May 2014

The V Word: Sexual Assault and Mental Health

Welcome to the V Word

Today’s edition is a nod to Mental Health Awareness Month.

Today’s question is from a reader,

Shana: “Hi, I was sexually assaulted as a child for several years by my father. While I am away from it now that I am an adult, I still feel depressed and anxious all the time. I still have nightmares and there are times I have thought about suicide. Sometimes I hurt myself just to feel and to get the shame out of my head. I sometimes forget what I am doing and realized I have zoned out for minutes or even hours. I have a partner now who is a good person and loves me but is worried about me. Is this normal? Will I always feel this way?

Yes, Shana, most survivors feel depressed and anxious long after the assault or the abuse has ended. Unfortunately the impact of sexual assault and abuse can continue on and impact your life in many ways. Survivors have many of the following symptoms and they can last for years.

Nightmares, flashbacks or ab-reactions, depression and anxiety, insomnia or hypersomnia (which is sleeping too much), difficulties with your appetite, being easily startled, and difficulties with relationships. Many survivors often think about or attempt suicide. Many survivors often cut on themselves or injure themselves to help distract them from the emotional pain that continues from abuse.

What many people don’t know is that the coping skills needed to help a person survive abuse often becomes counter-effective when the abuse has stopped.

So what that means Shana, is that the hyper-awareness that you needed to develop during your childhood can now disrupt your normal interactions. Difficulties sleeping can add to depression during the day. Dissociating or “zoning out” during abuse is a protective device survivors develop to survive the abuse while it is happening. It can become a habit when anything becomes uncomfortable or stressful after the abuse is over and inhibit you in talking with others or being able to listen. Repressing your feelings is also a way for survivors to help themselves survive abuse. This is why survivors often feel numb long after the abuse has ended. That is why some survivors cut on themselves, to avoid the memories or to make sure they can still feel something.

All these are usual for survivors to feel and can last a long time. But there is help. Trauma counseling is available now from trained therapists and local rape crisis centers have support groups. Nonprofits like Mental Health America can provide you with referral and resources for services in your area. Suicide hotlines are available.

So listeners, to recap.

Sexual assault can have a long-term, even life-time impact on survivors. Statistics reported across various agencies are;

Rape survivors are 13 times more likely to attempt suicide than are people who are not raped.
Rape survivors are six times more likely to attempt suicide than are survivors of other crimes.
25–50% of sexual assault survivors seek mental health treatment as a result of the assault.
8-15% of sexual assault survivors go on to develop chronic post traumatic stress disorder.

Are you a friend, partner or family member of someone who is assaulted? You can help by understanding what a survivor goes through even after the assault has ended. You can help by encouraging the survivor to seek support and counseling if they need it. You can help by going to support groups or counseling with them to learn more about what a survivors needs from their loved ones.

Need help or more information? Here are some options…

To report a sexual assault in the Richmond, Virginia, USA area – call 911 or go to an emergency room.

For information on how to report an assault in the Richmond, Virginia, USA area, you can call the non-emergency line at 804-646-5100 or go by a local police station office. The main Richmond office is located at 200 West Grace Street.

Thinking about suicide? In the Richmond area you can call the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority at 819-4100 that is the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority Crisis services at 819-4100.

Not in the Richmond area? You can call the national suicide prevention lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255 , that is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

For help with counseling and advocacy, local rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters can provide services. In Virginia, USA to find a center closest to you — you can call the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline, hosted by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance at 1-800-838-8238. That is 1-800-838-8238

Listening from outside of Virginia? You can call RAINN – the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network at 1-800-656-HOPE . That is 1-800-656-HOPE

Want to share a story or ask a question? Email me at or tweet me at my twitter account @preventviolence. You can read the transcript for this show and past shows on my blog at

The V Word is recorded in the studios of WRIR-LP 97.3 FM, read and produced by me, Carol Olson.

I write this today in homage to my mother and all our mothers who gave birth to us, helped create the world we live in and started our generation on the path to advocate for a world without violence, without rape, without domestic violence, without assault, without violence. Does anyone remember the origins of Mothers Day?

Julia Ward Howes, an antislavery advocate, wrote the original Mother’s Day Proclamation: Arise then…women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, For caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, Will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.” From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor, Nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil At the summons of war, Let women now leave all that may be left of home For a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace… Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God – In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask That a general congress of women without limit of nationality, May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient And the earliest period consistent with its objects, To promote the alliance of the different nationalities, The amicable settlement of international questions, The great and general interests of peace.

I think how these words resonate today with our continued efforts to eliminate all forms of violence. I look at the industry of anti-violence advocates focused on sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Most of the leaders in this field, in state-wide coalitions and in local direct service agencies are women. These powerful women who came into this field to address violence against women and the impact of violence on our children. These women are mother’s seeking to a better place to raise their children and for their daughters to have a safer world to raise their children. I applaud the women who work, volunteer and intern in these agencies. These women are strong advocates to end violence, to serve our community to create a safer place for children to grow up in, and to provide treatment to survivors of violence. These strong women are mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and daughters who dedicate their lives to creating safer communities for all of us to live in. I applaud the mother’s of our anti-violence agencies who give of their time, their energy, their focus to make our communities’ a safer place to live and work. When I was a director of a local rape crisis center, one of my employees made the comment that I am the mother of all of them in this agency. I suppose all of the director’s who run cause-focused agencies are symbolic mothers in this work of educating employees, interns, and volunteers who come to help our cause. I feel the influence of each women in anti-violence agencies is more equitable; we learn from, support, and help each other. We are mothers to each other. I knew then that I couldn’t lead such an agency in such a difficult and controversial field without each of them, the work they do, the sacrifices they make, and the heart they have toward each other. My thanks to all the women, the mothers of anti-violence advocates everywhere. I give thanks to their mothers, and my mother and mother-in-law who are models of creating strong, independent women who seek to make a difference in this world.

Happy Mothers Day!


The V Word: Sex Trafficking

Welcome to today’s edition of The V Word

Last week I talked about soliciting sex and prostitution. I am continuing that conversation today with a focus on human trafficking.

So here’s a question for those out there. Have you ever tried to coerce or force someone into having sex for money? Has someone ever tried to force or coerce you into having sex for money? Remember my story last week about how often I was approached? How often other women and trans-women were approached? How often children are approached?

My story last week was about the more open and brazen means to recruit someone into sex work. And were you thinking just adults are coerced? And did you imagine the stereotypical idea of a prostitute hanging on a street corner, with a pimp as her manager? You know, the TV image.

Human trafficking for sex is way broader and more pervasive than movies show, and involves more children than people are aware of. Where is this happening you may be asking by now? Not in Richmond you may be hoping. Yes in Richmond. In fact Richmond is listed along with Virginia Beach and Northern Virginia with the highest rates. While it may be focused on the larger cities with major highways, it happens all over the state.

Next you may want to know how it happens.

Traffickers look for people who have vulnerabilities: victims of sexual abuse, children living in poverty, children marginalized in our society by gender, race and economic class, and people who have been made vulnerable after natural disasters.

How does a Trafficker find vulnerable people: You probably did guess this one – through social networking, along with other means. If the parent is already being used as a sex worker, often the children are vulnerable to exploitation.

What happens next, once the Trafficker identifies someone? A process called grooming starts, promises are made to lure someone vulnerable. Another way is for a parent to pimp out their own child or outright sell the child. Yes you heard right, people sell their children and not just because they are evil people but also because they are desperate.

Once in, the victim is used in multiple ways, and not just on the street but through hotels, clubs, escort services, etc.

How does the Trafficker maintain control: isolation from others, shame, physical violence or threats of violence, drugs.

I know you will ask: why doesn’t the victim run away or ask for help? Remember the list of control tactics? All of those create fear and dependency and it’s extremely effective.

How many in Virginia: The Polaris Project reported 375 in a 6 month period. It is suspected it is widely under reported, like most sexual or interpersonal crimes.

So what is Virginia doing? The Virginia General Assembly just passed legislation that harshens the penalties for people who solicit children for sex. It allows felony prosecution now and listing on the sex offender registry.

What are some of the current laws you can use to prosecute such crimes?

§ 18.2-48. Abduction with intent to extort money or for immoral purpose, to extort money or pecuniary benefit, with intent to defile – for the purposes of prostitution, child pornography… is a Class 2 felony which can offer up life imprisonment.

18.2-46 Prostitution: commercial sexual conduct, commercial exploitation of a minor by offering money or its equivalent for the purposes of engaging in sexual acts is a Class 5 or 6 felony.

18.2-355 Taking, detaining, etc a person for prostitution, or being a parent or guardian consents to a person to be taken for prostitution or sex work is guilty of pandering and is a Class 4 felony.

Virginia’s new law will help close the gap and make it easier to prosecute offenders.

Need help or more information? Here are some options…

For information on how to report in the Richmond, Virginia, USA area, you can call the non-emergency line at 804-646-5100, that is 804-646-5100 or go by a local police station office. The main Richmond office is located at 200 West Grace street.

Are you a victim or do you know someone who needs help: The Gray Haven Project is a local resource for survivors of human trafficking. Tel: 804.365.2529 or email to

For help with counseling and advocacy, local rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters can provide services. In Virginia, USA, to find a center closest to you… you can call the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline, hosted by The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance at 1-800-838-8238.

That is the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-838-8238.
Listening from outside of Virginia? You can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-800-373-7888 that is 1-800-373-7888 or text 233722

Want to share a story or ask a question? Email me at or tweet me at my twitter account: @preventviolence. You can read the transcript for this show and past shows on my blog at

The V Word is recorded in the studios of WRIR-LP 97.3, read and produced by me, Carol Olson.

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