To All the Women Brave Enough to Testify At Sexual Violence Trials, from a Trauma Counsellor
I believe you.
As a trauma counsellor for the past five years, your witness accounts sound all too familiar. For people in my line of work, these are the stories we know by heart.
A trauma bond forms between people who have shared an extreme experience – an act of violence or a traumatic incident.
The beats and rhythms of your survivor testimony are familiar. I also recognize many of the questions poised by the defense lawyers for the accused.
I recognized them because I hear many of the same questions from my clients. It usually starts with “why?”
My clients, survivors of sexual violence and domestic human trafficking, ask me:
- “Why did I text my abuser after what he did to me?”
- “Why did I meet my abuser for lunch?”
- “Why did I have sex with him again?”
- “Why did I tell him I loved him after he hurt me?”
As a trauma counsellor, I don’t have to wonder why. This is what I tell my clients.
Their trafficker romances them. He’s interested in what they have to say. He’ll listen intently. He’ll make them feel special, desired – like the most beautiful woman in the world.
Many survivors of sexual violence, particularly violence at the hands of an intimate partner, form something called a trauma bond. Bonding is something that happens over time through shared experience and emotional connection. It is a natural part of the human experience.
A trauma bond forms between people who have shared an extreme experience – an act of violence or a traumatic incident. Extreme emotions and situations can sometimes fuse people together. It can connect them on a deep emotional level.
The book Bonded to the Abuser by Amy Baker and Mel Schneiderman, explores why those who suffer through terrible experiences at the hands of an abuser often continue to “reach out for some shred of love from the very person who has hurt them.”
Many of my clients are survivors of domestic human trafficking. In almost all cases, they believe they are in a committed relationship with their trafficker – their boyfriend, the man they love. Their trafficker romances them. He’s interested in what they have to say. He’ll listen intently. He’ll make them feel special, desired – like the most beautiful woman in the world.
As any survivor of a violent crime will tell you, they’d do anything to make the situation feel normal again. To feel loved again. To feel normal again.
Gradually, he gets them to push aside their inhibitions.
- A sexually explicit text one day
- Then a request for a nude photo
- Then a request for sexual act that they would not normally do
Women in this situation tell me that these men will then play hot and cold. Distant and withholding one day; attentive, romantic, interested, the next. Often this man will be older, attractive, charismatic, connected. He’ll have more money, more influence or more power than the women he exploits. The trafficker will keep a collection of the explicit photos these women send him. He’ll ensure he keeps their messages – the e-mails, texts and notes. A detailed record of consent.
He’ll keep it all. Why? They are trophies. It is also leverage. If the woman threatens to expose the trafficker, he’ll ensure she knows that this collection will go public. To friends. To family. This what a trafficker does. This is what an abuser does. I know because these stories play out almost every day in my practice.
I believe you.
The girls and women I treat are beaten, forced to have sex with 10 men a day, their money and identification taken from them. This doesn’t stop them from believing, through it all, that they are in a committed relationship with their pimp, their trafficker. This is the man they love. A trauma bond will make you do all sort of things that later on might not make sense.
As any survivor of a violent crime will tell you, they’d do anything to make the situation feel normal again. To feel loved again. To feel normal again. I know these things may not make sense to someone who hasn’t been violently assaulted, raped or exploited.
They make sense to a trauma counsellor.
They make sense to survivors.
They make sense me.
So I say to all the girls and young women testifying at sexual violence trials across Canada. I get it.
Stay as strong as you are.
I believe you.