How we treat sexual assault matters more than we will ever know


My psych final was this morning, which I am 90% confident I did well enough on to pass the class (which is all I need to be satisfied).  Considering I counted watching “Girl, Interrupted” as studying, I say that’s not too bad.

I felt like there were many necessary topics left out of our behavioral medicine and psychiatry course.  One of the many: sexual assault.

For the past eight years I have wanted to give a presentation on sexual assault, to share my story and hopefully offer some insight into the world of a rape victim.  This was my chance, and I took it.  One of my awesome classmates helped me out, and we began planning our workshop.  Our professor gave us access to two standardized patients and we got to work. That was 3 months ago.

After months of preparation, today was the day. Time to stand in front of a lecture hall full of classmates, peers, faculty and staff to share some of the darkest moments of my life.  It began like a play, my classmate interviewing the standardized patient pretending to be the sixteen year old me.  Make up outlined our actress’ face and body in a pattern of bruises as she laid in the fetal position retelling my story.

After reading the findings of the case’s physical exam, I dove into my disclosure.  Shocked faces scattered through the audience as I began to admiringly describe my physician that night.  This is why I chose to share my story- her.

The one hour visit at 4am with this physician, my physician, shaped my recovery.  She was easily the most positive element in my trauma, the foundation I rebuilt myself upon.  As a future physician I wanted to capture her essence and wisdom for all other healers, so they too could be a rock for victims of assault.

What made her so special?

The middle aged Scottish woman who appeared at my bedside in the American Hospital of Paris at four o’clock in the morning is my superhero, my idol, and this is why.  When her face fell on my injuries, she didn’t look at me with pity.  When she spoke, she didn’t offer the fake, scripted empathy we are taught in medical school.  When she provided my care, she provided — not forced.  Every decision was mine, not hers.  She made it apparent that she was there for me, a partner in my care.  At sixteen years old this woman treated me as an adult, giving me absolute and complete control over my medical care and decisions. This would evolve to me regaining control over my body, and eventually my life.  The respect this extraordinary woman showed me in my time of vulnerability changed me forever and inspired me to live my life unaffected by the prick who hurt me.

All this in just one hour, eight years ago.  I wish she knew how deeply she helped me.

Every health care provider will see a sexual assault victim. More than once.  How we treat them matters more than we will ever know.  We don’t need to be superheroes, we simply need to allow our patients to be.

Today felt like the final step in my recovery. Standing up and sharing my story was the final motion to whoever assaulted me eight years ago.  To him I say: I am stronger than you.   I will never allow you the power to negatively affect my life.  I’m strong enough to use your violence to teach others.

I am free, and it feels so good.

“Natalie” is a medical student who blogs at doctormodel.

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