May 30, 2023

Wilson Discusses How Rape Survivors Process Trauma with Huffington Post

Laura Wilson, associate professor of psychology

Laura Wilson, associate professor of psychology

Associate Professor of Psychological Science and Safe Zone Director Laura Wilson discussed how rape survivors process trauma with The Huffington Post, in an article entitled, “Rape is Still Rape, Even When Consensual Sex Happens Later.” The article highlights the testimony of rape survivor Jessica Mann, an actress who testified that she was raped by disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein, and later had a consensual relationship with him.

“I certainly understand that it seems bizarre,” Dr. Laura Wilson, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Mary Washington told HuffPost by phone on Thursday. “But in actuality, when you think about how people respond to victimization it makes a lot of sense.” Wilson, whose research focuses on post-trauma functioning in sexual assault survivors, explained that most survivors don’t initially use the terms “assault” or “rape” to describe what they’ve experienced. Instead, they might conceptualize the assault as “bad sex” or “a miscommunication.” 

Often times, the survivor in this scenario is in an ongoing relationship with an abusive partner, Wilson said. People tend to believe rape is perpetrated by a stranger ― not someone known to the victim like a partner, classmate or colleague. So when sexual violence is perpetrated by someone the survivor knows (which is 80% of the time, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), they often don’t have the correct language to describe the encounter. 

“What we know through research is that people have, what we call, a ‘stereotyped rape script,’” Wilson explained. “What most people assume rape looks like is a strange man raping a woman in a dark alley, there’s typically a weapon involved, and she normally fights back. Anything that doesn’t fit that script, we don’t know what to do with it. We don’t know how to conceptualize it.” Read more.