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*** sexual abuse triggers ***

A reader emailed me a question that she had trouble finding an answer to online, so I thought I had better address it here. The question was whether it is possible for a young girl to be vaginally gang-raped, survive the experience, and not remember that it happened (dissociate the memories into adulthood). The answer is a resounding yes, and it happens with much greater frequency than society wants to admit. It happened to me, as you can read about in my story.

Let’s start with the physical act of raping a young girl. The reader was asking about the age of eight, but vaginal rapes can happen at any age, even in infancy. The vagina is intended to stretch to enable a baby to pass through it, so it is able to be stretched to accommodate a male appendage or other object even in a young girl. Of course, this comes with great pain to the girl, but it is physically possible.

The younger the girl was when the rapes started, the more likely she is to have repressed the memories. Children under the age of six have the gift of being able to split off the memory from conscious awareness through dissociation so that they do not hold a conscious memory of the rape immediately after it happens. This can result in a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID) or other form of dissociative disorder. I had been vaginally raped repeated from the ages of around six through 11 and was vaginally raped again a few times in my teens, but I had no memory whatsoever of the rapes until my late thirties. This was the truth I most rejected about my history.

I held onto the fact that I experienced light bleeding when I first chose to be sexually active as “proof” of my self-told lies of still being a virgin. I would have nightmares of being raped but rejected them outright due to this “proof.” Then, as I was reading Safe Passage to Healing by Chrystine Oksana, I came across a passage that talked about the hymen’s ability to regenerate in part after a period of celibacy. That is when my truth leaked out as a sickening awareness.

Throughout therapy, I had kept telling myself, “at least I was never vaginally raped…” That was the one type of abuse I needed to have been spared to be okay. Facing this truth was the most difficult part of my healing journey, and I wasn’t sure if I would survive it. However, after grieving mightily for three days, treating myself with kindness and accepting my truth was the catalyst to ending my status as a person with DID. Since I was no longer hiding big truths from myself, I no longer needed to have a host personality. The host integrated, and I forever stopped losing time. I was also immediately okay because the rest of myself had always known this truth.

I hope that the Google search engine will pick on this blog entry about whether it is possible for a young girl to be vaginally gang-raped, survive the experience, and not remember that it happened (dissociate the memories into adulthood). I don’t want other women who are facing this incredibly painful experience to find no articles when they do their search.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Plant (c) Lynda Bernhardt

In my last post, Working Through Shame After Child Abuse, I talked about how some forms of abuse are particularly degrading. Because of this, survivors of those forms of abuse might find it more challenging to overcome the shame involved from having been a victim of those forms of abuse.

Gang rape is one form of degrading abuse that is difficult for a person to work through. While a child might try to rationalize being raped by one person as that person being evil or insane, having a pack of people rape your body has no possible explanation. A group of people has decided together that you are nothing more than a sex toy to be exploited for their nefarious purposes, and you have no hope of escape. It is as if the people justify their actions as being okay because “everyone else is doing it.”

When a child is gang raped, there is no hope of escape. How can one little boy or girl possibly fend off several adults who could easily overpower the child one-on-one? And yet the child often walks away feeling as if she is responsible because there must be something wrong with her. She is the common denominator in this equation. There must be something so fundamentally wrong with her to incite a group of people to attack her in such a painful and degrading way.

Unfortunately, this thought process carries into adulthood. The child abuse survivor must find a way to come to terms with having been gang raped. This is not an easy thing to do.

If you have survived a gang rape, you are not alone. Unfortunately, gang rapes of children happen much more frequently than anyone wants to admit. You can heal from this pain. The gang rape was not your fault. There is nothing that a child could ever do to be responsible for falling victim to a gang rape. Your abusers are responsible for their own actions.

If you are not in therapy, I strongly recommend finding a qualified therapist with experience in counseling people who have been gang raped. Hearing a professional tell you that the rapes were not your fault is very powerful in helping to overcome the shame. The shame is not yours to bear.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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