You are standing at the world messiest desk. Scattered on small pieces of paper all over the desk – and under, beside, in file folders, taped to the bottom of things – are notes of what happened to you. Your interviewer keeps changing the subject, asking new questions just as you find one of the notes and are ready to discuss that part of the puzzle. You are getting increasingly upset and frustrated, and your interviewer seems increasingly disbelieving of your “story.”
This, Dr. Rebecca Campbell says, is what happens when the survivor of a trauma (she is particularly interested in sexual assault traumas) is being interviewed by a law enforcement officer. The officer is trained to skip around the story to see if it holds up. The survivor’s brain is literally unable to put the pieces together.
Why can’t the survivor put the pieces together? That is what Dr. Campbell explains so well in this video. Step by step she takes viewers through what happens within the brain and body when a trauma happens, explaining the roles of hormones released during trauma, which parts of the brain switch on and off during a trauma, and what the consequences may be. Those consequences can include tonic immobility (literally a paralysis that can affect not just the body, but also the vocal cords), laughing, emotional numbing, irritability, and even loving feelings.
One of the most interesting tidbits she shares is that while researchers (and many laypeople) assumed the brain would respond differently to a “date rape” and a “stranger rape,” brain scans of newly-traumatized individuals revealed that there is no difference: either way, the body/brain sends out the same “your life is in danger” klaxon call, with all the same consequences. When it comes to types of sexual assault, there is no hierarchy of pain.