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"One year ago, I locked my door and went to sleep; like we all do on any given night. Unfortunately, this night was like no other before and was one I will never be able to forget. I woke up that night to a co-worker who had undressed himself, crawled into my bed and raped me. "
Kathleen, rape survivor

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Eating Disorders and Sexual Violence.

       Many disorder behaviors are a direct consequence of trauma. Some of the disorders caused by sexual violence include Rape Trauma Syndrome,(PTSD) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and eating disorders (ED). It is estimated that almost 30% to 40% of eating disorder patients are survivors of sexual trauma. For a person already vulnerable to eating disorders or suffering from bad self-image, a traumatic incident like rape or incest can trigger an eating disorder.

       There are countless reasons why women and men (though women are still a majority) who have survived rape, sexual abuse, incest, or molestation use eating disorders as a coping mechanism. For some developing eating disorders is away to avoid sexuality. In other cases, an eating disorder may be a way to hide anger or frustration and seek the approval of other people. Unhealthy eating is often the symptom of a bigger problem. Since survivors often feel that they cannot show their anger and resentment directly, they may resort to unhealthy ways like starving or overeating to express on the outside what is hurting them on the inside. In addition, victims might start viewing their body as a source of shame, and an eating disorder may be used as a form of self-punishment.

        In stressful events like rape or molestation, the victim often feels utterly powerless, and may seek new ways to improve his or her sense of control. Our culture and society place great emphasis on body image. Being thin is equated with maximum control. As a result, victims may start avoiding food or limiting intake to dangerous levels. By doing so, some survivors of sexual violence no longer feel powerless in their lives. Sadly, commercials, magazines, and advertisement that show unrealistic bodies can keep motivating a person to indulge in unhealthy eating behavior.

       When survivors remember a stressful situation they can also be driven to eat more than normal. Overeating or eating comfort foods that are high caloric foods can calm the body and provide a momentarily relief from emotional stress. Overrating, like starvation, may also be used as a way to avoid intimacy and sexuality. Survivors often report feeling safer when they no longer feel that they conform to the ideal of beauty portrayed by the media and women's magazines. While much emphasis is placed on diets and new ways to lose weight, the real reasons that bring a person to use food to comfort her or his pain are still overlooked. Instead of asking an overweight or obese person, "what are you eating?" the right question would be, "what is eating at you?"

       Without recognizing and dealing with the trauma it is very difficult to treat and overcome an eating disorder. Cognitive awareness can play a vital part in the recovery and healing process of a survivor of sexual violence.

If you suffer from an eating disorder as a result of your rape or sexual abuse, you deserve to heal and you are not alone. We have specific forums for recovery from eating disorders at After Silence, and we welcome you to join and to connect with others who can understand.

© 2007 After Silence - This article may not be reprinted or reproduced without express permission.


This site is offered for support of other rape and sexual abuse survivors. It is not meant to be a substitute for any kind of professional help.
If you are in a crisis situation we urge to contact your local rape crisis center or health care professional.

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