The effects of sexual abuse on victims has long been a topic of discussion, but recently, studies conducted on lab rats have provided conclusive evidence that long after the initial incident(s), victims are permanently damaged.
The majority of the scientific team’s research revolved around SCAR, also referred to as Sexual Conspecific Aggressive Response. The team took a different approach than those of past experiments by focusing on the female response rather than male behavior.
The study aims to get a better understanding of how female victims react to and are altered by extreme acts of violence.
Around 35 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence in their lives, and the study is beginning to show how the lives of those 35 percent are negatively altered.
Despite a woman being assaulted or beaten every nine seconds in the United States, 20,000 calls made to domestic abuse hotlines daily, and an average of 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men being raped in their lifetime, not much has been done to understand the pain these sexual assault victims endure long after the crimes have been committed.
This experiment is shining a light on a previously dark, taboo and unfamiliar area.
Using lab rats to gather information, scientists led by Tracy Shors, a psychology professor at Rutgers, paired sexually experienced male rats with pubescent female rats for 30 minutes a day.
Throughout each encounter, the male became increasingly aggressive toward the female, pinning her down at times, despite the vaginal canal not being fully open.
At times, the female would dart around the cage as the male would attempt to and succeed in overpowering her, resulting in the female’s forced submission. Despite her smaller size, the female, gifted with agility, would often be able to get away from the male’s hold.
During and after the assault, the team found that levels of corticosterone, a stress hormone, skyrocketed within the female lab rats.
Junior Priya Patel said, “I’m not surprised that the stress hormone level raised drastically during the event because anyone who has experienced sexual abuse will tell you that it is a horrible experience. I’m hoping to see that the scientists will find some groundbreaking evidence to help the abused.”
After the incidents, the females failed to perform well during learning tasks and did not learn how to express maternal behaviors during sensitization. This shows that sexual abuse does not only primarily affect the victim, but can also have an effect on how offspring of the abused develop. Children of the abused suffering from Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) also have a higher risk of experiencing traumatic experiences themselves.
The team has been able to connect sexual abuse with mental health issues, although they are still trying to fully understand exactly how the experience of sexual assault affects the female brain.
The experiment has opened a new door in scientific research of physiological effects that abuse causes, and has captured the attention of many.
Junior Kali Oriole said, “I can’t recall the last time I heard of a study being done on the affects sexual abuse has on victims, but I think that it’s great to know that scientists are getting information that will be beneficial.”
The goal for the scientists is to find out how the female brain responds to extreme aggravation, and begin to help women recover from sexual abuse.
How do you think that the study will turn out? Will it be deemed a success that revolutionizes how we help victims?