In our book, A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017) author Kristin Davisson describes the qualitative responses of women who were witnesses to rape. She writes as follows:
To open the qualitative interview, women were asked to recall how they became aware of their friend’s experiences of sexual violence, followed by an inquiry of their feelings/reactions to this disclosure. This allowed for participants to “re-tell” the story of sexual violence as they first experienced it. It was not uncommon for participants to experience strong emotions as they recounted the details of the trauma stories themselves. One woman tearfully shared:
It’s very sad…He told her he had a gun…turns out he didn’t, but she didn’t know that. He tells her to take him to her car or he’ll shoot. She said she tried to decide if she should scream but she didn’t, which she ended up regretting, although who’s to say he wouldn’t have hurt her. So, he takes her to her car. There is no one around. He forces her into the backseat and rapes her. (crying) She said she was actually relieved that he raped her and left. He didn’t drive her anywhere; he didn’t kill her…. And she said she didn’t really fight; she felt resigned to her fate. She said he wasn’t too rough with her physically, but that he kept calling her dirty names and asking her did she like it. She said she cried the whole time and begged him not to hurt her.
In describing her own emotional reaction to this she stated:
Well I felt completely helpless. So sad for her, for the fate she endured on behalf of all women I guess. And angry. Damn angry…I thought about it constantly. I dreamt about it the week after. Even talking about it now, again I feel paralyzed.
Another woman recalled a “hysterical” phone call from her friend in which she disclosed the ongoing physical, emotional and sexual violence occurring in her relationship:
She told me that he choked her until she blacked out; that she had marks all over her neck; that he was screaming at her and threw her into the wall; that he would call her really horrible sexually based names and that if she didn’t want to have sex with him, he would make her feel bad about it and coerce her into doing it. Really bad stuff… the first time she called me, it was this huge pouring out of everything that had been going on for quite some time… I felt very powerless in that situation and scared for her.
In all but a few cases, participants recounted similar details of the traumatic encounter, giving me a sense of just how close they were to the incident of sexual violence. Distance in time from the event (ranging from 6 months to 5 years) did not appear to be a factor in the few cases wherein participants did not relate such details; rather there was an apparent correlation to closeness with the victim.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.