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Wednesday April 23rd 2014

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Health Talk: Erika Smith

Erika Smith, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Trauma Specialist at Lakeview Center

Lakeview Center walks abuse victims along the road to recovery. The center provides therapy, education and preventative training, advocacy, as well as, a 24-hour crisis hotline. Smith said that in the United States, 1.3 women are raped each year. In 2011, Lakeview Center helped over 400 victims in Santa Rosa and Escambia counties. You can find more information about Lakeview Center at elakeviewcenter.org or 432-1222.

IN: What are some of the common issues that rape victims face after abuse?
SMITH: There are a variety of issues following abuse such as: establishing feelings of safety, difficulty concentrating, which makes returning to work difficult or focusing at school, difficulty sleeping, intrusive memories or thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, depression and anxiety.

IN: How can friends and family of abuse survivors be supportive and help recovery?
SMITH: There are several ways. Friends and family should listen to survivors without judgment. It doesn’t matter how old the survivor is or if alcohol was involved, they are never at fault. Encourage survivors to seek medical attention and talk to someone they trust. Remind them that they don’t have to face this alone.

IN: What are some of the common misconceptions about rape cases?
SMITH: One misconception is that men cannot be raped. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently did research and found that 1 in 6 men report being sexually abused before the age of 18. Another misconception is that if you had consensual sex before that you cannot be raped. If we did not want to have sex on that occasion, it’s rape. Even if the victim is married, we have the right to give verbal consent. Most believe that we are most at risk of abuse from strangers, but we know the vast majority of cases involve someone the victim knew by face and name. This makes it even more difficult for a survivor to report the crime. Survivors may feel that if alcohol or substances were involved, then they are at fault. We really need to see it as tactics by offenders.

IN: How does counseling at the Lakeview Center benefit abuse survivors?
SMITH: We use the Judith Herman’s Model of Trauma Recovery. In the first stage, we will assist in establishing safety. If they want to obtain an order of protection, we help them receive that. We focus on safety first. The second stage is remembrance and mourning where we assist survivors with processing their thoughts and feelings related to the assault. The third stage is reconnecting with people. We have individual therapy as well as family therapy. We also have a 24-hour rape crisis line (433-7273). Lakeview has a continuity of services including prevention and education services and someone who is certified and trained always available via our 24-hour rape crisis line. There is also victim advocacy. Victims have the legal right to an advocate – someone who will be with them at legal proceedings, in court and the hospital.

IN: If someone has been abused, but hasn’t come forward, what are some signs that friends and family should look out for?
SMITH: If you start to see changes in their behavior. For example, if they are normally outgoing, but now seem depressed or fearful. We don’t want to force someone into therapy, but never give up hope on that person, ask “What can I do to help?” Remind them of their options and encourage them. That can make a real difference.