Mental health experts offer support, help to sexual violence survivors

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- The almost daily news about new sexual abuse and misconduct allegations is affecting survivors who are not in the spotlight. It’s empowered many who have experienced violence but there’s another side too.

“This can also be incredibly emotionally exhausting and triggering for folks,” said Ashley Amidon, the supervising counselor for Crisis Services’ Advocate Program. “We would encourage anyone who is struggling with this to absolutely reach out for support.”

The Advocate Program helps survivors connect with counseling and takes them through the process of reporting the incident, if they choose.

“When they meet with law enforcement, when they file the report when they give a statement, we’re there every single step of the way,” said Amidon.

They also have a 24/7 hotline with people ready to just listen, 716-834-3131.

“What we want survivors to know the most is we believe them, we support them, and help is available,” she said.

Mental health experts say the constant exposure to these cases in the news and on social media can cause survivors to re-experience trauma.

“There’s an imprint physically at the cellular level of what happens during a traumatic event,” said Ken Houseknect, the Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of Erie County. “A smell, a sound, an experience that’s similar can actually trigger and bring you right back and evoke the same physiological responses as if you were in the trauma.”

He said the brain’s chemistry changes.

For young victims of sexual violence, it can affect their ability to develop a fight or flight response.

According to Houseknect, there are a number of studies that show the physical changes due to trauma can cause higher rates of cancer and heart disease.

“It could be a single event, it could be an event that’s repeated over a long period of time, typically the longer it lasts and the more severe it is, the deeper imprint it makes,” said Houseknect. “The impact that has on young people is just devastating, it’s not an exaggeration to say it’s life limiting and left untreated it’s life shortening.’

He hopes the attention on sexual violence right now will also help encourage children and younger victims to come forward and speak with someone they trust about their experiences.

Houseknect said the attention has already had a positive effect on adult victims.

“It’s positive from the standpoint it gets the culture talking about it,” he said. ”It’s positive from the standpoint changes will be made. It can become personally positive if people who have been effected come forward and get some sort of trauma informed care.”

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