Lea began experiencing severe physical problems shortly after she was raped. Years later, she suffers from intense and untreatable nerve pain that has worsened throughout her adult life and from regular migraines thought to be related to PTSD.
“I have survived sexual assault and harassment and experienced them together,” Lea said. “I suffer from idiopathic dysautonomia, neurological damage that causes my neurons to misfire or misreceive information. This means I interpret many sensations as pain… Everything from itches to simply having a body puts strains on my neurological pathways.”
Research into Lea’s condition has found a connection between physical and mental trauma. Sexual violence is also one of the most common causes of PTSD, along with combat stress and traffic accidents.
Awareness of sexual assault and harassment has been steadily increasing since the #MeToo campaign entered the public eye in late 2017. But despite greater awareness of assault, there is still a huge stigma surrounding those who experience it. Survivors say they often feel accused of lying or blamed for causing attacks by being drunk or wearing revealing clothing. This kind of shaming harms not only reputations but also the health of survivors.