Rape victim opens up about trauma, recovery

Wednesday, July 16th 2008, 10:45 pm

By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

In America, it's estimated that one in almost every four women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape.

In Oklahoma, a higher than average number of those victims will be between the ages of 13 and 24. It's difficult enough for a person that young to deal with such a violation, and even more difficult to talk about it publicly.

Shannon Doherty,19, recently exposed her written works about her rape.

"To you, I am what I act like: A girl who is forward and seemingly carefree," the journal reads. "You can't have the part of me that knows I care so much, the part of me that wants to jam the closest thing into my skin to see if I can feel it bleed or throb."

After the rape, Doherty became prone to binge drinking and attempted suicide.

Matt Atkinson, a therapist at Integris Baptist, gave the young woman the journal assignment.

"She came to me after a serious suicide attempt, and she'd been in the hospital for three weeks," Atkinson said. "Her story, which is very common in Oklahoma, is that she was sexually assaulted. She was raped by someone she thought was a boyfriend, she thought she could trust, during high school."

Doherty, 15-years-old at the time of the rape, was a sophomore in Edmond.

"I was a cheerleader. I was a goody-good. I was a good girl," Doherty said. "I had a boyfriend who was into some pretty bad stuff. He was not a good guy, and he raped me."

Doherty told her closest friends, but she said they didn't believe her, and her anger turned to humiliation.

"What happened inside of me was shame...embarrassment," Doherty said. "I thought I was good to be used...that's what I was for."

Shannon said she began three years of self-destructive behaviors. In her mind, the string of related behavior confirmed her low self-worth and left her family wondering what was causing the change.

"Nobody could figure it out, because I didn't want them to," Doherty said. "I knew, I knew deep down. I knew it was rape, and I knew it was destroying me."

Four therapists failed to help the traumatized teen. On the fifth, Atkinson, knew he faced an uphill battle.

"The day she met me, she sat in the seat...and she confronted me and said, ‘I have trust issues with men. I'm pretty much not going to talk to you,'" Atkinson said.

But Atkinson's non-judgmental style helped him gain Doherty's trust, and, with time, he had her confronting the behaviors that were tearing her apart.

"She had to wrestle with the self-injury," Atkinson said. "She had to wrestle with why she had become vulnerable to abusive guys, abusive men."

More important, Atkinson said, the journaling unlocked for Shannon a critical fact about the rape itself.

"Shannon forgot that she fought back," Atkinson said. "As a result, for three years, she'd beaten herself up."

Doherty said when she wrote her story down on paper, she realized she wasn't to blame for what happened to her. She also said the honesty Atkinson's therapy engendered was life-changing. She's sober, has significantly raised her dating standards and said she now greets each day much more optimistically.

"I have the urge to thrive," Doherty said. "Rape doesn't get to take that from me."

Doherty no longer sees her story as shameful, in fact, she allowed Atkinson to include it in his just-published book "Resurrection After Rape," a clinical look at treating rape trauma, combined with actual testimonies and journal entries from survivors like Doherty.

"Remember, you are not alone," Doherty said. "Be courageous, and when you feel powerless and hollow and when you feel week and weary, tell yourself you survived. Let your spirit feel the peace that is around you. We are in this together, we will survive this together."


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