Dear Piers Morgan Yes, sexual assault victims can suffer from PTSD

The singer recently and bravely spoke about how being raped 20 years ago caused her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

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Dear Piers Morgan: Yes, sexual assault victims can suffer from PTSD play

Dear Piers Morgan: Yes, sexual assault victims can suffer from PTSD

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An open letter in response to the journalist's suggestions that Lady Gaga isn’t suffering after her assault.

Dear Piers Morgan,

We get it: Mansplaining is kind of your schtick. Already this year you questioned Jennifer Aniston’s thoughts on tabloid culture and body image. Then you “educated" Beyoncé on why her “playing the race card” in Lemonade “smacks of shameless exploitation.” 

With that track record, we shouldn’t have been surprised that you felt it necessary to school Lady Gaga on the appropriate response to sexual assault.  

The singer recently and bravely spoke about how being raped 20 years ago caused her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that she still deals with today. Instead of responding with empathy and humanity—or not responding at all, because, really, what business is it of yours?—you instead said “only soldiers returning from battlefields” can develop PTSD and “it angers me when celebrities start claiming ‘PTSD’ about everything to promote themselves.”

Worse, you suggest Gaga’s rape never even happened, tweeting that she and Madonna “have both made ALLEGATIONS of rape many years after the event. No police complaint, no charges, no court case.” 

This line of thinking is ignorant—and sadly, rampant. In our October issue of Women’s Health, we reported on the devastating impact of sexual assault, and how many victims suffer from PTSD decades after their rapes. Some points of enlightenment we’d like to share:

First, rape isn’t like a tree falling in the woods—it doesn’t only happen when a woman marches down to the police station to report it. Only 35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement. Since you didn’t respond to Lady Gaga’s offer to share some of the reasons why this is the case—an issue she’s been working on with Vice President Joe Biden—let us name a few:

A woman, who has just been brutalized and violated in the most devastatingly intimate way, may feel embarrassed or fear she won’t be believed. She might blame herself for not being able to stop the attack. Or she just might realize that she lives in a society where victims of rape are told their choice to wear a short skirt or have a few drinks means they deserve to be raped.

Women who do go to law enforcement often find police dismiss their claims or don’t even try to collect forensic evidence of the attack with a rape kit—or end up having to face their rapist in court where her assailant is nearly guaranteed to walk away scot-free.  Only three out of every 100 rapists will ever spend even a single day in prison, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).  

Second, sexual assault—and the aftermath we described above—are incredibly scarring, and often lead to PTSD.  Research shows that rape survivors often have more severe PTSD, and a harder time overcoming it, than combat veterans. While between 10 and 20 percent of war vets develop the disorder, about 70 percent of sexual assault victims experience moderate or severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime. And German researchers found a third of women raped in WWII had PTSD symptoms nearly 70 years later.

Acknowledging what is a very real phenomenon among those who’ve been sexually assaulted doesn’t discount the severity of what members of the military have been through in any way. More should be done to help and support all PTSD suffers, whether their distress stems from a war fought on foreign soil or one waged on their own body. 

One in five women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Far from “promoting” herself, Gaga is shattering the stigma of both rape and mental illness. Her words and actions may give hope to other women who feel lost, alone, and silenced by their sexual assaults and PTSD.   

Following your comments on Twitter, Gaga agreed to sit down and discuss these issues with you in an interview. We hope you listen. 

Signed,

The Editors of Women’s Health

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