Most people are aware that sexual assault victims suffer mental aftereffects, but few realize that the victims also experience physical rejection symptoms such as breaking out in rashes. It became known only recently, as victims began exchanging information, that most of them face severe physical pain as part of the aftermath of sexual violence.
Choi Hee Jeong, victim of sexual violence by Sogang University professor K, says that she has been breaking out in horrible rashes for the past month. The red spots that literally cover her entire body from head to foot are accompanied by itchiness and high fever, keeping her awake all night and leading to exhaustion and weight loss of some 6 kg.
Says Choi, "I knew that I would fall ill at least once after the trial was over, but I never dreamed it would be like this." Describing her unbearable emotional status, she says, "When I think that there may be no end to the pain and no improvement, I almost wish I was dead."
Most of the victims of sexual violence suffer serious mental stress, such as repeated nightmares and flash-backs. This mental pain or stress translates itself into physical symptoms, developing into all sorts of ailments including skin problems such as rashes and itchiness. But because most of the research conducted on Briquet's Syndrome (physically-manifested symptoms of mental trauma) is not widely known, victims do not know where to turn for help. On top of that, it is common to see victims who sue failing to receive proper compensation for mental damages, because it is difficult to provide physical evidence of claimed mental damage in court.
Choi points out that besides making public the incident of sexual assault itself, the time has come to make public the victims' "stress-induced disabilities" as well.
Explains Choi, "Materials provided by women groups or the Ministry of Gender Equality mention mental damages countless times, but there is no detailed explanation of what form the mental damages take. It would be a lot easier if the victims at least know in advance what they have to deal with. I have decided to write a handbook on the aftereffects suffered by sexual assault victims in the hopes of alleviating the despair that other victims suffering similar symptoms may feel." Choi started out by writing her experience and posting it on the Internet and emailing it to the Ministry of Gender Equality and women groups. She has also asked other victims to share their experiences.
To Choi's surprise, most of the victims were suffering similar symptoms. They confessed to indigestion, stomach cramps, nightmares of getting raped by the aggressor or his lawyer, listlessness, depression, and "mysterious" rashes. Regardless of whether they made public their case or hushed it up, the physical pain and symptoms were similar. Some of the victims made the connection, realizing that the "mysterious rashes" were due to the sexual violence they had suffered. The rashes and itchiness appeared not only on the victims but their families members as well.
The 'Gathering of Victims of Sexual Assault by Professors' had a lot to do with Choi's decision to write the sexual violence aftermath handbook. If the victims had not come together to share their experiences, each of them may have just written it off as "just my luck" or "it's my fault," burdened with guilt over what is the result of a structural problem. But fortunately, the victims got to know each other through the 'Alliance to Root out Sexual Violence by Professors,' a group formed by students in universities where cases of such violence had occurred.
Having shared their honest thoughts with each other via email, the victims picked up the courage to form the 'Gathering of Victims of Sexual Assault by Professors' in May. The victims are scattered in Korea, Japan and the US, but every Wednesday night, they chat on-line at the Daum Communications internet cafe (cafe.daum.net/sghope) about the aftereffects they are suffering. They share how they are struggling with guilt, listlessness, men-phobia, anthrop-phobia, suicide urges, sexual aversion and so on. And they start healing as they chat and encourage each other.
The characteristic of Briquet's Syndrome is that the symptoms are relieved or eliminated when the sufferer calms down psychologically, is relieved of stress, and receives psychological treatment. In fact, one victim said that her enteritis, indigestion, sinusitis, allergy-induced rhinitis and coughing disappeared once her aggressor lost the lawsuit and faced disciplinary measures from the university. And after counseling and therapy, she started healing psychologically as well. In another case, the aggressor escaped punishment and actually became a "respected" businessman and returned to the university to give talks. In this case, the victim started suffering ailments all over again, hemorrhaging and experiencing severe physical pain.
For sexual violence victims to recover their health and receive rightful legal compensation, there must be more systematic research into the degree of stress-induced disabilities and Briquet's Syndrome suffered by different sexual violence victims. To this end, the victims must have the courage to take the first step and share their experiences, and society must show the support they need take that step.