Shrink Rap: Sexual Assault

The recent spate of accusations of sexual assault has shocked and alerted the people of our country and the members of the Telluride community. In the following blog for Shrink Rap, Dr. Susannah Smith goes deep into that difficult subject.

What has become clear to all is how pervasive sexual predation is in the United States. The constant media attention and headlines are also opening up old wounds for many women – and some men. The effect on women is usually more profound than on men, due to the power differences of physical strength and threat, job influence, and financial capability and social connection. It is not unusual, for example, for the predator to have friends in law enforcement, the judiciary, and politics.

Sexual predation and assault is about power.

Sexual predators are often pillars of their church or community: professionals; coaches; educators; politicians; celebrities; judges; ministers; thespians; choir directors; Scout leaders, etc. These community facades help them hide their more sinister natures. They often “groom” their targets, much as a child sexual pedophile “grooms” his/her intended victims. This behavior involves slowly and over time to enlist trust – until the intended victim is in a compromised situation. The frog in a pot of water that slowly increases temperature to boiling is an apt analogy. Suddenly, the victim realizes they are in a very bad situation.

At times, predators are more brazen and use their position of power to have many different people in compromised positions and just grab or pounce seemingly out of the blue. Examples include television producers, politicians, and actors who seem to believe they can do whatever they want – and often act on that belief.

I do not think many women are surprised by the number of men in various positions of society who are sexual predators. Personally I do not know a single woman who has not had many unwanted advances and a number of “close calls” or experienced dangerous and threatening situations with predators, or sexual abuse in one form or another. Many of your female friends have been raped. We women usually do not talk about such things; we often try to forget they happened.

Today, women’s past traumas are being awakened and they are discovering that they indeed still have trauma, including some with full blown post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. While girls and women have learned the world works this way and that we have to find a way to live in that reality and fend off the dangers as best we can, suddenly the world seems to care – or at least there is a possibility that our country cares. This would also translate to, perhaps the American male is becoming aware of how pervasive the problem is among their gender, and perhaps caring about that sad truth.

Most girls at some point learn to “dress down”; to be less effusive, open, and sharing; to get good security; to avoid walking most places at night; to be careful where they park their cars; to have friends they could spend the night with; to avoid driving alone at night or on unknown roads; or to avoid being caught alone with a man without a clear escape route. Most women have learned to change their natural friendliness and openness unless they are in a secure situation, which is a sad state of affairs.

If you have been victimized in this way, professional help is available. There are some good treatments currently available for all types of PTSD. Moreover, now that the public is willing to talk, it may be easier for you to open up to a loved one or trusted friend, which helps.

If you are a predator, please get help as well. It is a mental problem just as much as the mental problems your predation creates. Dr. Marshall Whiting and I are planning to offer a group for the people of the year: The “silence breakers.”

Please contact if interested.

About Dr. Susannah Smith:

Dr. Susannah Smith

Dr. Susannah Smith is a licensed practicing clinical psychologist and organizational development consultant, with offices in Telluride and Ridgway. She is licensed in Colorado, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. She has conducted workshops on child sexual abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault, and is a mediator and custody evaluator. If you would like to contact her, she can be reached at;; or 970-728-5234.

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