Physical and emotional tolls on sexual assault survivors

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One in five women will experience completed or attempted rape during their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Emily Dawson has experienced sexual assault twice.

“Existing was exhausting,” Dawson said. “That’s the best way I can say it.”

Dawson said she was 16 years old when she was raped by a high school boyfriend on homecoming night. She was intoxicated and consented to sex at first, but said she quickly changed her mind and pretended to fall asleep.

But he continued.

“Talking about it with my friends and my peers and stuff like that, it was, ‘well, you didn’t say no. You didn’t push him off of you, so it wasn’t really sexual assault.’ Those kinds of tapes playing over and over in your head really mess with your psyche,” Dawson explained.

She admits that following the rape, she was in denial, and said she fell into depression.

Meaghan Tarquinio is a forensic services patient navigator at Frederick Memorial Hospital, and assists survivors of sexual assault.

“Nobody wants to say, ‘I didn’t have control in this situation.’ Oftentimes, patients are able to identify that something bad happened, or that they were uncomfortable or there was something wrong with the situation,” Tarquinio explained. “They may even be able to identify it was sexual assault or rape, but they’re not able to get the words out. Because once you say it, and it’s out in the world, then it’s real.”

At 19 years old, Dawson was raped by two men over the course of one night. She said this time, she escaped with fleeting physical scars.

“From the second round of assaults, waking up with bite marks…some nights, I would have a night terror or something about it happening again, and waking up and searching all the birthmarks and moles on my body and being like, ‘was that there before? Is that a bite mark? Was someone in here doing something to me?'” Dawson said.

Forensic nurse Pamela Holtzinger said that when examining sexual assault survivors, she often can’t find traces of physical trauma.

“The reality is, in these types of situations, although it is a violation of that individual, it often doesn’t leave injury that we can detect,” Holtzinger said. “Or if it is, it is relatively minor to be able to detect.”

Dawson sees a therapist and takes medication for her depression. She’s in a better place, and is pursuing an associate’s degree – but the lifelong battle doesn’t escape her.

“I will have depression the rest of my life,” Dawson said. “Now granted, I have coping mechanisms…in place to help me deal with it better.”

Frederick Memorial Hospital has recently opened a new space in forensic nurse services that is open to the public.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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