This week is full of commitments and deadlines. Rather than try to meet all my blogging commitments with new work and failing, I’m pulling out some old posts. Given how my audience has grown, most of you won’t have read them at the time. This post was originally published here.
If you read much around FtB, you’ve heard about “The Amazing Atheist”, a ragey vlogger who turned his rage on a rape victim. If you need to catch up and are up for some real ugliness, Kazim brought us the news here, PZ had a few choice words about consent and oppression, Natalie noted some strange places she’s seen this guy cited, and Daniel, Crommunist, Jason, Jen, and Greg have all suggested their readers unsubscribe and shun. So, yes, if you’re subscribed to this guy’s YouTube channel, please fix that now.
I’d like to add a brief note about PTSD and triggers. You see, this whole thing started with TAA declaring on Reddit that he doesn’t believe in triggering. He then went on to attempt to trigger the rape victim in question and claimed it proved his point when no triggering occurred. One little note, then, for TAA: Triggering is part of the definition of PTSD, you self-blindered ass.
Seriously, right there in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) definition for post-traumatic stress disorder is a section on intrusive memory. If you don’t meet at least one of the criteria in that section, you are not considered to have PTSD. The last two of those criteria?
4. Intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.
5. Physiologic reactivity upon exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event
“[I]nternal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.” That would be the definition of a trigger. Triggers exist, whether one whiny misogynist believes in them or not.
Perhaps, however, that isn’t what TAA means. Maybe he’s fine with the idea that some people experience PTSD triggers. Perhaps he means he doesn’t really believe that people who are raped experience PTSD. Well, in addition to being an inhumane jerk, TAA is almost 40 years behind the times in the scientific literature.
It was way back in 1974 that Ann Burgess and Lynda Holmstrom identified rape trauma syndrome, a form of PTSD with some characteristics that are specific to the nature of the trauma. None of those special characteristics are an immunity to triggers. Findings of rape trauma syndrome have been replicated over and over, in studies that attempt to determine what worsens the trauma (most consistently? lack of social support after a rape–thanks, TAA!) and what kinds of treatment are most effective.
The reality of rape trauma is so well documented in the literature that the existence of the trauma in an alleged victim of rape can be used as corroborating evidence in rape trials. Expert evidence can also be given to attest to the commonness of some features of rape trauma that are frequently used to undermine the credibility of victims (confusion, delay in reporting, etc.).
Does that mean every victim of rape experiences rape trauma syndrome? No, though it’s quite common. Nor does it mean that rape victims are more prone to being triggered than others dealing with PTSD. What it does mean, however, is that many rape victims can be triggered. That, in turn, means that while you may not be able to trigger intrusive thoughts and emotions in any individual rape victim (so much for TAA’s “proof”), if your audience is significantly large enough, the chances of having several rape victims in the audience is almost 100% and the chances of having someone in that audience who can be triggered by discussions of rape–particularly nonsympathetic discussions–is pretty good.
What anyone does with that information is up to them. How we judge their use of that information, though, is entirely up to us. Denying it while simultaneously trying to use it against an opponent, as was done in this case, will not be judged lightly.