Counterintuitive Behaviors in Trauma Survivors

September 23, 2022

Behavior of a victim during or following an assault oftentimes appears unexpected to outside observers. Rather than reacting in the way that many people would presume someone would, victims commonly exhibit superficial behavior that seems counterintuitive. This is especially true when someone is the victim of a sexual assault, the way they appear can seem to many to not fit with their concept of having suffered such a dramatic event.

In a sort of paradox, the perception of the way someone reacts to a traumatic event and general expectations of survivor behavior can vary widely depending on the context of the situation. For example, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013, Bostonians went back to work and the injured moved forward with their lives as soon as they could manage. The Boston Strong movement rose up and city went back to normal operations.

Surviving an Assault

In stack contrast, when the survivor of a sexual assault tries to go back to normal life, the general view is that it simply didn’t happen. Counterintuitive behavior victims exhibit during or following a sexual assault, include:

  • Not resisting or fighting back the attack
  • Not calling for help when there are others in the vicinity
  • Not taking an opportunity to escape
  • Continuing with normal life following an assault
  • Sleeping or having sex following an attack
  • Regular communication with the perpetrator
  • Dating the perpetrator

Survivors often do their best to act “normal” following an assault. They may show no overt display of trauma or distress. Victims will go back to school, work, playing sports, shopping, dancing, and general socializing. Make-up may be placed over any bruising.

To act as if nothing happened is incredibly common for victims of sexual assaults. Unfortunately, public perception seems at odds with the reality of these types of situations. If you trip and fall down in public, most people’s first reaction would be to not make a scene. However, when sexual assault survivors do exactly that, people may not believe they were attacked in the first place.

The Myth of Expectations

The reality is there is no single reaction to surviving sexual assault. Many reactions may be counterintuitive to someone who hasn’t gone through such a horrific experience. The problem therefore is not the victims behavior, it is that most other people have faulty expectations.

This is partially due to the myth versus reality of sexual assaults. Most people think of a rape as a violent act perpetrated by a stranger. In reality, most sexual assaults occur between people who know one another.

In such cases, the victim may find themselves confused at what happened. In retrospect, was it clear that the incident was a sexual assault? At the time was a line crossed? Is what is happening okay? Why is it happening, and is it my fault?

How Perpetrators Manipulate Victims

Because sexual assaults are usually between two people who know each other, the perpetrator may also display counterintuitive behavior. People don’t expect a rapist to be friendly to their victim, but they too behave country to expectations. This in turn influenced the victim’s perception of the assault.

Following an attack, the perpetrator may ask for another date. They may perform acts of kindness following the assault and continue on with the evening as if nothing happened. The next day, they may send a text saying they had a wonderful time. By conducting themselves as they normally would in their day to day life, they effectively gas light the victim into doubting what happened.

People who haven’t suffered a sexual assault are under the misconception that they would behave like some kind of super hero in such a situation. They would escape the attacker by fighting them off, call the police immediately, and never see the perpetrator again. Because sexual assault victims often have relationships with their attacker, the reality could not be further from this misconception.

We Believe You

Victims of sexual assault not only deal with the trauma of the actual attack, they may find themselves not believed when trying to report the crime. This can lead to further traumatization, especially if they were just trying to get back to normal life following the assault. The way they behaved in not trying to cause a scene can work against victims, which in turn leads to survivors often not getting the justice they so rightfully deserve.

The team at Estey & Bomberger has achieved a national reputation for fighting for justice on behalf of survivors of sexual assaults for over two decades. We have secured record setting judgments, settlements, and verdicts and do everything within our power to support our clients at every step of the way. Our dedication to success has resulted in a perfect record holding sexual predators accountable for their actions.

More than just another law firm, we do everything we can to provide out clients with the resources they need to heal. Our trauma informed team includes certified sexual assault victim advocates, and every member of our law firm is here to help our clients in their journey towards a better tomorrow. If you or a loved one has survived a sexual assault, contact us today to learn more about how we can help you achieve justice and fair compensation for your suffering.