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The recent news regarding Harvey Weinstein and the decades-long secrecy of his behavior towards women has been shocking to many. For those of us that work in and around sexual assault and trauma, it is, unfortunately, no surprise. It is refreshing to see more people speaking up about this type of behavior, but there are scientific reasons why many victims do not come forward.

Sexual assault is a form of trauma. Like most traumas, the victims are helpless to protect themselves. Due to these feelings of helplessness, the victim almost universally feels guilty after the assault. They question what they could have done differently or whether they put themselves in a position to be victimized. This guilt can often hold victims back from coming forward.

Because the effects of trauma mirror those of PTSD, the brain’s natural response can often get in the way of having a crystallized memory of what happened. Hormones that respond to stress and work to help individuals cope interfere with the memory-encoding of the amygdala and the hippocampus, two areas of the brain. This can cause increased fear about coming forward, especially because defense lawyers or prosecutors may grill the victim for a hazy memory.

Below is a video from CBS 3 where I discuss sexual assault and trauma in relation to the Harvey Weinstein case.