Trauma Brain: How It Affects Victims After Sexual Abuse

by | Jan 8, 2024 | Firm News, Massage Therapists, Survivors - Resources & Help

How Trauma Affects Us After Sexual Abuse Horowitz Law

The Irrational Behavior of Trauma Victims

Experts, academics, authors, and even abuse advocates have found common ground on certain truths regarding sexual assault, though it’s often not plainly stated: victims of sexual violence don’t act rationally, especially immediately after an assault. It may be hard for many of us to grasp, but it’s crucial that we acknowledge this fact, even if we do not fully understand it. This irrationality post-assault manifests regardless of whether the incident was blatantly violent or subtly invasive, and it holds true for victims of all ages, from children to adults. Trauma knows no bounds.

An argument could even be made that such irrational behavior is partial evidence that the individual has indeed sustained trauma. A victim’s actions after an assault may not align with societal expectations, but it’s an important signifier of their personal distress.

Real-life Instances of Victim Behaviour

At Horowitz Law, we’ve represented numerous women who were sexually assaulted in establishments such as Massage Envy or a day spa. What often surprises people is the fact that the vast majority of these victims do not immediately report their assaults to legal authorities, management, or even to their close friends or family.

Another seemingly irrational behavior these survivors exhibit is leaving a tip after getting assaulted during a massage, as they habitually would. This can be startling and incomprehensible to many, especially those in the legal profession or insurance industry, who often fail to understand the trauma the victims have undergone. Unfortunately, certain defense lawyers and insurance managers who do comprehend the victims’ behavior exploit it, alleging that the victim was not genuinely harmed.

Understanding the “Irrational”

Today, we explore why many victims of sexual assault behave this way. The main reason a woman who has just been sexually violated might leave a tip is a reaction to trauma. Multiple studies have shown that traumatic situations often cause the rational decision-making part of our brains to temporarily suspend operations. And so, victims often act in ways that seem counter-intuitive to others – a series of actions and reactions that are driven by their internal struggle with trauma. They go about it to seem “normal” while they process what just happened.

To simplify it, think of a soldier who has experienced gruesome violence and, upon their return home, starts to endlessly patrol their property with a gun or wake up with night terrors. While their behavior may seem irrational to some, it’s understood as a psychological response to trauma. Similarly, when a person is assaulted, especially by someone they know and trust, they sometimes act in unpredictable ways – a fact highlighted by substantial research into trauma psychology.

Variety in Trauma Reactions

Victims of sexual violence do not respond uniformly. Their reactions might not align with what others who haven’t faced such trauma expect or believe. And they definitely may not react the way others speculate they would in the same situation. However, their reactions are perfectly in line with thousands who have experienced similar attacks throughout history – they don’t act rationally because trauma disrupts rational behavior. It may be hard for us to wrap our heads around this, but the plain and simple truth is:

  • Survivors of sexual violence don’t all respond alike. 
  • They don’t respond like we who haven’t been assaulted ASSUME or BELIEVE they will act.
  • They don’t respond like we think WE would act in a similar situation.
  • They DO react like millions of others over thousands of years who have been attacked: not rationally. 

Now, we as a society must educate ourselves to wrap our brains around a similarly counter-intuitive notion: that after an assault (especially right after the assault), a child or adult will almost inevitably do things that are or seem irrational. We’re gradually accepting certain truths about sexual abuse, thanks to the brave survivors, their staunch supporters, and experts who have tirelessly raised awareness about various issues, from how sex offenders select victims to how power dynamics fuel assault.

Another truth we must recognize is that victims of sexual assault may act irrationally in the aftermath of their violation. That’s a scientific fact, not a personal failing. By acknowledging and understanding this, we, as a society, can further our supportive framework for victims and foster a safer environment for everyone.

Horowitz Law has filed numerous sexual assault lawsuits against massage therapists for clients who were inappropriately touched at various massage salons and spas. If you have been a victim of sexual assault or sexual battery during a massage, or if you know someone who has, please contact our law firm at 888-283-9922 or send an e-mail to sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz for massage clients at [email protected] for a free consultation.