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Dr. L
Dr. L, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 1166
Experience:  Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist
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My daughter is a college student who was sexually assaulted

Resolved Question:

My daughter is a college student who was sexually assaulted by a date. A few weeks later she started dressing like a boy and said she wanted a sex change. She insists that this is not sudden and not related to the assault. She says she always wanted to be a boy. There was never any indication of this in her childhood. She liked to wear dresses and would not wear boyish clothing. She unofficially changed her name to a male name, but she's says it is neutral. She has backed off of the sex change, and now considers herself to be gender neutral/queer/fluid. Sometimes she dresses like a girl, sometimes a boy or boyish. Her friends at school don't seem to think anything of it. Am I wrong to think the assault may have something to do with her new self-discovery? I am trying to be supportive and patient, but I don't know if I'm helping or hurting by keeping quiet.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. L replied 1 year ago.

Dr. L :

Hello,

Dr. L :

I would like to help you with your question.

Dr. L :

I can understand how disturbing your daughter's behavior is to you. The sudden change in sexual orientation is severe.

Dr. L :

I do think that the assault had a negative impact on her self-esteem...and that fear may be behind her desire to be boyish.

Dr. L :

A sexual assault is traumatic.

Customer:

She surpresses her emotions and this just seem to be a reaction to the asault.

Dr. L :

That impact is far-ranging on one's physical, emotional, spiritual view of the world. Changes in behavior, in attitude, and perspective are normal. Somatic symptoms like changes in sleeping, eating, or energy levels are very common.

Dr. L :

That she says she wants counselling is terrific. I would not insist that she see her prior therapist...getting help is the #1 key here.

Customer:

my concern with starting with a new therapist was that she would convince them that the sexual identity isn't new

Dr. L :

Trauma really demands that you see a therapist training in this specialty. I would also encourage a specialized treatment called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This is the #1 treatment for Post-Traumatic - the usual result of trauma. Please see:

Dr. L :

www.emdr.org for more information.

Customer:

she's a psych major and i thought she would have read or learned something to suggest that she be reacting to the assault

Dr. L :

Yes..I understand this point....and it is a very good one.

Dr. L :

Well...she may have read about PTSD and trauma...but she may not be applying those "labels" to herself. It is far easier to think that other people have that reaction then to think it might be you. Remember...kids in her age range still think they are invincible!

Dr. L :

I think that a good therapist...Ph.D. level, with years of practice and a specialty in trauma...are going to see through the "neutral" dress and mannerisms. If she comes in dressed like a girl one session, a boy the next...the therapist will get the picture! We are trained to spot inconsistencies..and this would be very obvious.

Customer:

She is inconsistant with it

Dr. L :

A trauma therapist is also going to be looking for any clues and cues of the trauma impact.

Dr. L :

So that inconsistency will be the signal to dig deeper and to bring this issue up in therapy.

Dr. L :

I think you can feel assured that the therapist is not going to miss this and she won't be able to "fool" the therapist about her orientation.

Dr. L :

What you asked in your posting was about whether you were helping or hurting her by keeping quiet. By that do you mean...not challenging her about her sexual orientation? or what?

Customer:

I would support her 100% if she truly had gender identity issues, but it just SCREAMS reactions. I am amazed that her friends appear to just believe her, or maybe they are just going along to protect her. She's small and pysically fragile, and has had anxienty issues since she was a child.

Customer:

.sorry I usually know how to spell..

Customer:

I think we've been waiting for this to pass...and it's not going to until she gets help.

Dr. L :

Sexual orientation on college campuses is rather fluid and kids just don't have the same taboos as adults. There is no standard dress code...and it just doesn't matter to kids how one dresses. No one is really going to see her as odd or doing something out of the norm. And yes...her friends are going to give her lots of room to express herself and to understand who she is..it's a universal struggle on campuses...especially in the first few years.

Customer:

I guess I don't need to address anything but therapy with her.

Dr. L :

My clinical experience is that the trauma needs to be addressed now, not later. That she has had anxiety issues in the past suggests that she could have a much more difficult time handling the assault then someone else. Anxiety is about fear...and a sexual assault is an exceedingly fearful event. Her desire to change her sexual orientation to male may be about a belief that boys have more control, boys don't get assaulted, boys know how to defend themselves....and so forth.

Dr. L :

Exactly!!! There is no need to talk about the sexual orientation...the key is to get her to a good therapist with trauma experience and let the rest unfold.

Customer:

Her dad & I felt stuck, we know she needs help, but she's an adult, so we tried to let her work through in her own way,

Customer:

Thank you. I guess I just needed to know when/how to nudge and where to nudge. We will find a therapist with trauma experience for her.

Dr. L :

I understand completely! Yes...she is an adult...but she still needs her mother and father! An assault is a horrendous experience and she needs your compassion and understanding. She may feel "dirty" by the assault. She may feel that she deserved it....these are not easy situations to comprehend...

Dr. L :

I would encourage you and your husband to do some reading on sexual assault so that you have a wider perspective on what can occur.

Customer:

she had support from campus police, but the D.A. declined to prosecute,

Customer:

I had to really work on my husband and sons to NOT hunt the guy down and beat him senseless. The no no legal or illegal punishment for this guy

Customer:

there was no

Dr. L :

I am so sorry. That there was no way to prosecute this guy is really terrible. It means there is no easy closure!

Dr. L :

Here is a link to an article that might be helpful to you...

Dr. L :

http://www.safehorizon.org/images/uploads/misc/1272296041_After_Sexual_Assault_Bklt.pdf

Customer:

Thank you for your help. We needed a starting point to figure out how to help her.

Dr. L :

You are very welcome.

Dr. L :

In the end, the sexual orientation piece may just fade away as a knee-jerk reaction. But the trauma from the assault demands attention. Helping her get into therapy is the very best thing you can do to help her right now.

Customer:

Sorry - I missed that you asked me this "What you asked in your posting was about whether you were helping or hurting her by keeping quiet. By that do you mean...not challenging her about her sexual orientation? or what?

Customer:

Yes, I didn't know if going along with the clothing and haircuts, etc. was helping. But confrontation would turn her more into herself, so we tried to be open and supportive.

Customer:

Thank you thank you thank you. We will do our best

Dr. L :

I agree that being open, supportive and patient is best. She is trying to make sense of her world...a world that changed dramatically when someone she knew assaulted her. This occurred at a time in her life when she is essentially on her own..without the daily protection of mom & dad. Being that vulnerable..and that violated...cannot be easily dismissed by her...swept under the rug as if it didn't happen or didn't matter. Any time when our world perspective is destroyed (think about the death of a loved one, a hurricane that rips away our house, being fired from our job)...it takes time and work to create a new world view that fits with our new reality. This is what your daughter is trying to do...consciously or unconsciously.

Dr. L :

In essence, she is throwing out many of the things that made sense to her before and trying on new behaviors/attitudes as a way to create a safe and predictable world again.

Dr. L :

Yes...trust that you will do your very best to support and care for her...just as you always have.

Dr. L :

I wish you the very best.

Dr. L, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 1166
Experience: Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist
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