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PTSD is just one example of the lasting impact of rape. If left undiagnosed and untreated, this mental health condition is life threatening.

By Shanon Lee

Trigger Warning: description of rape, violence and PTSD.

Somehow, I was back to that familiar place. Moments after waking up drenched in sweat, I lie still in bed – waiting for my heart to stop racing and for the feeling to return to my body. I was safe. It’s been twenty years since I was raped, but PTSD makes it feel like it wasn’t that long ago. 

My nightmares are frequent, every dream is the same: my ex has found me and is going to finish me off. I’m walking leisurely along the beach, unaware that he is only a footstep behind me. I never see his face, I only hear his voice saying my name moments before he fires his gun.

Days earlier, I accused my boyfriend of grabbing me by the ankles as I slept. That morning, I woke to find him standing at the foot of our bed and screamed. He was just saying goodbye before heading to work. I was experiencing flashbacks of the morning I was attacked.

The scars from being dragged across the floor by my ankles as I struggled to escape have faded from my skin, but not my memory.


It’s been nearly two decades since I was raped, held by knifepoint and beaten. I began a new life, remarried, became a mother and now I advocate for other survivors of rape. But I am not immune to the effects of trauma in the aftermath of sexual assault. My night terrors come and go and I still cope with anxiety, paranoia and insomnia.

On the days when my symptoms are the worst, I stay at home and away from people. For the most part, I have learned to manage my phobias, accepting them as quirks I may never be rid of.

An estimated 24.4 million Americans have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can develop from experiencing, or witnessing, a life-threatening event. The symptoms include insomnia, jumpiness, paranoia, suicidal ideation, self-injury and outbursts of extreme violence. In addition, PTSD sufferers often develop depression, anxiety and substance abuse issues.


June is PTSD Awareness month and many are unaware that it affects all survivors of trauma, not just veterans of war. Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD and the most common trauma women experience is sexual assault or child sexual abuse and rape is one of the highest risk factors for PTSD.

Though Black women are disproportionately affected by sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence, we are less likely to seek mental health care due to cultural or financial barriers. Other deterrents include mistrust of the authorities and a mental health care system that caters to whites.

There are few PTSD treatment programs and recovery support networks available for women of color. Those who are fortunate to get screened for PTSD at a school, trauma clinic or hospital, may not have the money or insurance to get a professional diagnosis and begin treatment.


In the absence of sexual trauma, Black women still experience misogynoir – discrimination due to their sex and race – placing them at a higher risk of developing mental health conditions than their white counterparts. 

Not only is racism linked to psychological issues including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse – but research shows a link between sexism and PTSD.

Along with a widespread lack of awareness about PTSD leading to misdiagnosis and delayed treatment, Black people are less likely than whites to be offered the best available treatment. Yet, because Black women experience the most debilitating PTSD symptoms at a higher rate, finding an adequate mental health care provider is critical.

Common PTSD symptoms include (but are not limited to):

  • Panic Attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Hopelessness
  • Emotional Withdrawal
  • Paranoia

Do you find yourself reliving what happened to you over and over again in your mind? Are you experiencing short and long-term memory loss? Do you find yourself avoiding people, places or activities that remind you of what happened? Are you jumpy and easily startled? Do you have problems getting to sleep or remaining asleep?


If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, you may have PTSD. Take a free online PTSD assessment through the PTSD Foundation of America here. To locate a PTSD treatment specialist in your area visit Adaa.org. If you, or anyone you know anyone has been raped or sexually assaulted, there is help available at 24/7 at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

PTSD is just one example of the lasting impact of rape. If left undiagnosed and untreated, this mental health condition is life threatening. I will seek treatment services if my symptoms become too difficult and I encourage others to do the same. Though I cannot change what happened to me in the past, I can respect my journey of recovery.



Author Bio: Shanon Lee is a Survivor Activist & Storyteller with features on HuffPost Live, NY Mag, WSJ, the REELZ Channel and TV One. Her work appears in The Washington Post, The Lily, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, ELLE, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and Redbook. Shanon is a Women’s Media Center SheSource Expert and an official member of the Speakers Bureau for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). She is the writer, producer and director of Marital Rape Is Real. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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