SEXUAL ABUSE AND TRAUMA BONDING: A THREE-PART SERIES
Part Two: Trauma Bonding and the Legal Rights of Victims of Sexual Abuse
By Dana Gambardella, Law Intern
At our New York City firm, we understand that each victim of sexual abuse has a different experience and story. We are here to listen to you and help you find a solution that best fits your needs. Did you know 8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone the victim knew? This is one reason that victims often stay in contact with the perpetrator after abuse occurs. Victims of sexual assault not only endure physical suffering but also mental suffering. This can cause survivors to form an unhealthy emotional attachment to their abusers. In extreme circumstances, this can result in Stockholm syndrome, known as trauma bonding.
What is Stockholm Syndrome?
Stockholm Syndrome, or trauma bonding, is a coping mechanism that many survivors of sexual abuse develop subconsciously and involuntarily to distance themselves from the trauma caused by their experience. Even the presence of a small kind gesture may make it difficult for the victim to feel anger towards their abuser. This often results in a continued relationship between the survivor and the abuser after the aggression has taken place as survivors with Stockholm syndrome struggle to detach from their abusers.
Trauma-Bonding with an Employer
Trauma bonding is present in several types of relationships including when the abuser is in a position of power such as an employer, or professional acquittance. Stockholm syndrome may present itself in the workplace when an employer, in a position of control, convinces an employee that they will profit if they endure the abuse. The victim may also keep contact in order to avoid retribution from a powerful abuser. Our firm, in representing a victim abused by Harvey Weinstein has seen the strong attachment that can stem from this kind of relationship.
The likelihood that a victim knows their abuser is increased further when the victim is a Juvenile. Statistics show that 93% of juvenile victims knew the perpetrator. When the abuser is a relative of the juvenile, they may keep in contact with their abuser in order to preserve and maintain family dynamics. When an abuser grooms or builds a relationship with a child by creating trust and an emotional connection so that they can manipulate, exploit, or abuse them, it is more likely the child will experience Stockholm syndrome. Grooming of this sort often occurs in an abusive relationship between a trusted member of the child’s church or religious group.
A trauma bond becomes especially strong between a child and a member of their church, such as a priest, due to religion-based fears and general beliefs about the nature of priesthood. Receiving extra attention from a valued member of a church makes a child feel special and strengthens the bond between them and their abuser. The child may also receive praise from others as a result of the erroneously perceived relationship making it more difficult to understand the true nature of what is occurring to the child.
Getting the Justice You Deserve
People don’t voluntarily choose abuse. Trauma bonds are developed through a strong biological process as a way for victims to protect themselves. Focusing on the positive aspects of their relationship with their abusers helps victims cope with the trauma they have endured. The development of a trauma bond, or Stockholm syndrome, does not invalidate the sexual abuse that has occurred, rather it helps establish that a trauma-inducing experience has occurred.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, our firm can help even if contact between the abuser and victim continued after the abuse. Our firm has represented abuse victims and their families for 30 years.