Recently, the #Metoo movement has been on the lips and minds of everyone from A-list Hollywood celebrities, to major news outlets, to middle America.
With good reason.
While sexual assault and harassment have always been part of women’s everyday realities, what’s different now is how it’s FINALLY been deemed okay to talk about openly—and even publicly.
With our new freedom comes a much-needed reversal of the social stigma and shame that had been previously associated with this type of victimhood.
In fact, surprisingly, many of us aren’t even choosing to see ourselves as victims any more but as #survivors.
However, while our newfound confidence is heartening, it’s time to have a broader talk regarding our traumatic experiences; like how they affect our brains.
Only then will we be able to tackle the problem in a more holistic way.
With this goal in mind, here’s how sexual assault has been found to affect our female brains.
How Sexual Assault Affects the Female Brain
New research from a study published in Scientific Reports suggests that sexual assault may actually change the brains of its victims.
The article is titled: Sexual Conspecific Aggressive Response (SCAR). A Model of Sexual Trauma that Disrupts Maternal Learning and Plasticity in the Female Brain.
It notes that “sexual aggression and trauma (are) associated with dramatic increases in the incidence of depression and cognitive disruption in women.”
What this means is that—when it comes sexual assault—a woman’s brain becomes just a part of the collateral damage as anything else.
Here’s more about the study and its findings:
- A pubescent female rat was placed in a cage with an adult male rat.
- From there the male proceeded to chase the female’s genital region, pinning and mounting her as she tried to escape (i.e. the rough equivalent of what happens during a human sexual assault).
The traumatic incident affected the female’s cognitive faculties/abilities by:
- Releasing high levels of the stress hormone corticosterone into her blood.
- Reducing her learning ability.
- Interfering in the female rat’s abilities to solve new problems related to child-rearing.
- Causing a reduction in newly generated cells in the hippocampus (the part of of the brain that plays an important role in the consolidation of information, including short-term to long-term memory).
- The study’s lead author Tracey Shors also concluded that if a woman had been exposed to a lot of trauma in her past, she might have difficulty paying attention to what was happening in the present.
Based on the information above (as well as old-fashioned common sense), a woman’s brain is very likely not going to be the same post-sexual assault.
What’s more, survivors will inevitably face additional challenges to maintaining their overall (or holistic) health. They may even have to devote extra attention to the cognitive aspects of their health.
So what can survivors do to heal this vital region of their body? Is brain therapy even possible?
Recent findings may surprise you.
Meditation as Brain Therapy
While it’s not an exact science, there is evidence that meditation positively affects your brain.
In fact, in a study published in Biological Psychiatry and commented on by the N.Y. Times in an article that appeared in their Mind section, mindfulness meditation (unlike a placebo) was shown to change the brains of ordinary people.
Its findings regarding test patients that engaged in mindfulness meditation include how:
- There was more activity, or communication, among the portions of their brains that process stress-related reactions and other areas related to focus and calm.
- Four months later, they had much lower levels in their blood of a marker of unhealthy inflammation (compared to the relaxation group), even though few of them were still actually meditating.
So how can we turn this new science into an ally of the #Metoo movement?
The Future of the #Metoo Movement (and Women’s Health)
One thing is certain: when it comes to survivors maintaining a healthy mind and body, the more tools at our disposal the better.
So if we can combine an affinity for topics like brain science and meditation with our already well-developed sense of sisterhood and mutual assistance we just might be onto something great.
From here we’re likely to see #Metoo—just like that famous atlas of Ayn Rand’s—shrugged.