Jessica Stern

Readers Respond to “Denial”

(The letters are posted with permission from the letter writers.)

August 13, 2010

Dear Jessica Stern:

Thank you for having the courage to publish Denial. It is of the clearest accounts of responses to sexual terrorism that I have read in the past twenty years. Of particular interest to me were your clear examples of the focused, intense hyperawareness that can overtake you when you are in an intense work situation.

Your book was like talking to someone who understands post trauma from a depth beyond academic research. An understanding that balances academic study with the deep realizations that can only come from personal experience. I’ve read just about every book I could get my hands on about surviving rape, war, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, growing up in an alcoholic home, etc. I used bibliotheraphy as a way of understanding and dealing with the events in my early life.

Your book is at the top of my list because of the way it explores the consequences of shame and how it ripples through a family. I know someone who was diagnosed with PTSD after serving eighteen months in Iraq. It is hard to see him struggle in ways that are familiar to me. I was selected as a candidate for a PTSD drug trial for the NIMH a few years back, but I turned it down. I too had a hesitancy about accepting that survivors of sexual trauma and veteran’s experiences are comparable.

The hyperawareness and the intuitive sharpness you accurately describe in your book have helped me in my job tremendously. Though it is often accompanied by the sleepy backlash— parasympathetic backlash, as described by the psychologist Dave Grossman—that comes later.

I conduct simulation-based training to prepare people for events ranging from someone bringing a weapon to work, to someone just giving effective performance feedback. We freeze scenes and analyze the situation, the emotions, and the professional and personal identity factors of each person in the scene. It is intense, focused and sometimes exhausting work. The skills that help me most are not the ones I learned studying Russian or the ones I learned in law school. They are the ones I learned as a survivor of sexual abuse. The three years spent in SIA (Survivors of Incest Anonymous) meetings also helped teach me emotional and social management skills. I later got certifications in the Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (a 360 instrument for leaders) and in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI); but my early life experiences gave me a survivor’s toolkit long before academic study helped me understand what it was. I appreciated your recognition of the benefits and challenges caused by being a professional and a survivor of sexual terror.

Thank you again for what you have done.

** 2 of 7

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