(In my second blog I told the true story about a gang of boys dragging me to the “pussy-bushes” in 3rd grade)
Then came 5th grade when a lone troubled boy stalked me in the hallways at recess, using the packed passageways as cover as he repeatedly pressed his groin against me. After months of trying to slip away, his obsession became violent on the day he my female physiology had evolved over the millennia to survive just such brutalitytrapped me in a stairwell, and with a raised fist vibrating inches from my face, demanded I “go with him” (be his girlfriend). The situation culminated with me agreeing, but also requiring that he deliver one pack of gum a day in exchange for my bondage. I did finally tell some girls about how I’d leveraged the situation and when the play-ground gossip made its way back to this boy, he waited for me after-school and punched me in the head repeatedly before a bus driver pulled him off. I didn’t cry. I vaguely recalled when the blows stopped, but I had detached from my body. My brain was practiced at notching into that groove since worse things happened to me in my own home. And believe it or not, my female physiology had evolved over the millennia to survive just such brutality:
Emerging brain research…illustrates a neurological basis for some of the differences in how girls and boys experience trauma. Estrogen activates a larger field of neurons in female brains, causing girls to experience stress factors in more precise detail. And [as a result] unlike boys, girls who experience trauma show diminished surface area in the part of the brain that links bodily sensations to emotions. (Michael Alison Chandler, Washington Post)
In other words, girls feel more of the trauma, therefore their brains over-correct by unlinking the feelings from the pain. I’ll never forget how a yard teacher in 3rd grade ejected me from the safety of the girls bathroom at recess, telling me that the boys wanted to hug (code word) me because I was a pretty girl. Soooo…is that why according to data collected by the national department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 5 girls versus 1 in 20 boys are victims of sexual abuse? Because girls are prettier than boys? And to make matters worse for girls, analysis from The National Center of Victims of Crime states that child sexual abuse is often not reported.
Let’s take a moment to put that under-reporting into context. If you walk into a school classroom of thirty children and half of them are girls, then according to the data you are looking at three girls who are sexual abuse victims. But there could easily be four or more seated there trying to attend to the lesson, and thanks to the evolution of their girl-bodies and brains, they’re going to be hard to identify. Fortunately there are ways to help the whole class and those with trauma as well. Curricula that focuses on Social/emotional health, restorative justice, (and one I really like) on resilience building are all available for use in classrooms now. Yoga can also be incorporated into classes and school programs, and is being used with success to help young women with PTSD in jails and prisons reconnect their shut off emotions to their body.
Stanford has conducted even more research on the differences between how girls experience and manifest trauma – check it out.