*Content Warning: this article contains references to sexual assault*
Words by Ellie Doughty
High profile New York Democrat politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has compared the action of Republican senators to that of abusers, as she revealed her history of surviving sexual assault in a moving Instagram live video this week.
Prompted to speak out by her fear during the assault on the US Capitol on January 6th, the congresswoman has accused Republican politicians of deflecting blame and pushing others to move on, which she compared to the “the tactics of abusers”.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez revealed few details about the abuse she suffered, choosing to focus instead on the lasting effects of the attack, and said: “When we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other”.
Following her admission, she said she was prepared for criticism, suggesting that certain people might say “She’s just trying to make it about her”, despite her valid claim that “traumas can intersect and interact”.
Chip Roy, a Texas congressman, has demanded an apology for Ted Cruz from Ms Ocasio-Cortez after she held him publicly responsible for his involvement in the attack. The congresswoman responded in her video by labelling this as “tactics abusers use” and said: “When I see this happen, how I feel, how I felt was: Not again. I’m not going to let this happen again. I’m not going to let it happen to me again. I’m not going to let it happen to the other people who’ve been victimised by this situation again.”
Despite the polarised and fractious climate of US politics, Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s words speak volumes about the collectively upheld culture of trauma response, beyond just the political implications of the attack.
The Survivor’s Trust UK detail some of the effects of sexual violence on their website. Among many lasting effects such as depression, anxiety, and more, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is not uncommon. Often used to describe the suffering of veterans or active military, it can also apply to survivors of any kind of trauma, including both sexual assault and what happened to those inside the Capitol on January 6th.
The impact of victim-blaming attitudes and rape myths can also exacerbate the development of PTSD in survivors, according to a paper in the McGill Journal of Medicine. PTSD is found in around 3.5% of the US adult population every year, and women are twice as likely to have it. On any given week in the UK, 4 in 100 people suffer from PTSD.
Triggers vary widely from person to person depending on their situation, but can include objects, places, thoughts, emotions and situations. While Ms Ocasio-Cortez does not describe any such specific triggers, or indeed PTSD, she does describe the links between traumatic episodes – and an old trauma that is revived by enduring a fresh one. The fear, dread and panic she felt as she said she believed she was about to die was likely a trigger to the trauma she felt when she was assaulted.
It will be interesting to see whether responses to her admission will refer to the political implications of what happened at the US Capitol, or whether there will be a considered response to Ocasio-Cortez’ story of being a survivor of traumatic experiences.
At the time of writing Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week has just begun, and in light of such a period it would be good if there was a considered response to what it means to have survived traumatic abuse and it’s long lasting effects.
Picture credit: Ståle Grut / NRKbeta