Post-Election, Survivors Of Assault Are Struggling To Have Sex Again

Trump's win is re-traumatizing women who thought they'd healed.
Ilana Kohn via Getty Images

After the now infamous recording of President-elect Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women by the pussy came out, Anna*, 33, went to her Facebook page to share her story. In high school, she had been raped by her boyfriend, and in that moment, she wanted people to know.

“I didn’t say anyone’s name, I just said I had been raped and I was a domestic violence and sexual assault survivor, and why it bothered me so much what Trump had said,” Anna told The Huffington Post. “I said, this is not just locker room talk. This happens to people, and this happened to me.”

After posting, Anna felt great. She heard from several women who shared their own stories and she helped connect them to resources. But then her ex-boyfriend reached out, saying he was going to sue her ― at the the same moment Trump was threatening to sue his accusers. It was an unsettling parallel Anna could not quite wrap her head around, and she was anxious for the election to be over.

“I kept wanting to think that Trump wouldn’t get elected and our nation would say this kind of thing isn’t OK,” Anna said. Since Trump’s win, she has been in a tailspin. For a week-and-a-half, she couldn’t sleep. She still hasn’t really been able to be intimate with her husband.

“Since Trump’s comment, we’ve only had sex a couple of times,” she said, adding that she was going to meet with her doctor to talk about options. “I don’t want to feel this way.”

“I had gotten to a point where I had taken my own power back from my rapist, and this felt like the American people telling me, "No, no. He still has more power over you."”

- Ali, 28

The 2016 presidential campaign was difficult for many women, especially those who felt triggered by Trump’s so-called “locker room talk,” and a string of allegations that he’d groped and kissed women without their consent. But Trump’s win, they say, is even more difficult ― not just a reminder of everything they’ve been through, but a minimizing of it. And it has left their sex lives in shambles.

“It resurfaced a lot of past trauma that I had experienced about seven years ago when I was sexually assaulted,” Ali, 28, told The Huffington Post. “I had gotten to a point where I had taken my own power back from my rapist, and this felt like the American people telling me, ‘No, no. He still has more power over you.’”

Prior to Trump’s win, Ali had sex with her husband every other day. Now, they’ve been having sex maybe once a week ― not nothing, but not the same. When they do have sex, Ali feels far less enthusiastic.

“I’m just not as comfortable letting myself be sexual right now,” she said.

It is hardly a surprising reaction, says Wendy Maltz, a sex therapist and author of The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide For Survivors Of Sexual Abuse.

“Here, we have a really unprecedented situation where a person who has been identified as a sexual perpetrator by many women has been elevated to the highest position in the country,” she said. “For many [people] who’ve been sexually abused, it’s a huge shock.”

Trump’s broader triggering effect has been well-documented. Soon after Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” tape came out, RAINN ― the sexual assault survivor nonprofit that runs the National Sexual Assault Hotline ― saw call traffic increase by 33 percent. At one point during the campaign, 3,000 therapists signed a “manifesto” detailing the psychological toll they believed Trump was taking on their patients, everything from anxiety and fear to shame, Politico reports. One therapist who works with survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault told Slate she’d seen an uptick in patients calling for emergency counseling sessions, and experiencing flashbacks and an inability to go outside.

“When I look at Donald Trump, I have this visceral reaction where I look at him as someone who actually sexually assaulted me.”

- Jamie*, 31

But it’s not just Trump’s behavior, Maltz said. It’s the feeling that many Americans simply didn’t care enough about their experiences to vote against a sexual aggressor that has made it so challenging for women to be intimate again, even with trusted partners. And Maltz points to research that has found that “institutional betrayal” ― the kind that happens when a student reports an assault and his or her university fails to provide backup ― can exacerbate trauma, leading to further anxiety, depression and sexual problems.

“Those results suggest that institutions ― or in this situation, the election ― has the power to cause additional harm to assault survivors in the form of sexual effects,” she said. Women can feel re-traumatized, Maltz added. They can project their feelings onto someone else, such as a partner or even Trump himself.

That’s exactly what is happening to Jamie*, 31, who was date raped when she was 16.

“When I look at Donald Trump, I have this visceral reaction where I look at him as someone who actually sexually assaulted me,” she said. “It has put me into this hole, where I don’t feel like I want to be intimate with my live-in boyfriend of four years.” They have not had sex since the election, and she has no sexual appetite right now.

Jamie understands, of course, that Trump did not actually assault her ― but she can’t shake the feeling that she has been violated in some way.

“I’ve never experienced looking at a stranger and having that kind of reaction,” she said. Jamie is hopeful she and her boyfriend will resume their sex life soon, but the thought of seeing Trump’s face every day for four years worries her.

“I just feel like, ugh. Dirty. Muddy,” Jamie said. “I feel like I was victimized.”

* First names have been changed for privacy reasons.

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