“I had no power, I had no voice, I was defenseless. My memory loss would be used against me. My testimony was weak, was incomplete, and I was made to believe that perhaps, I am not enough to win this. That’s so damaging. His attorney constantly reminded the jury, the only one we can believe is Brock, because she doesn’t remember. That helplessness was traumatizing.”
The above statement is from a rape victim in the 2016 People v. Brock Allen Turner case. This young woman attended a party at Stanford University and the next thing she knew, she was waking up on a gurney with scratches on her body and pine needles stuck to her. She was informed that she may have been assaulted behind a dumpster. The victim could not remember any details of the assault.
While the gaps in her memory may have been a product of heavy drinking, it is also a possibility that the severe stress on the brain from the assault may have resulted in memory loss or fragmented memories.
This memory loss in rape victims has been shown to pervade throughout one’s life after an assault; an effect that interestingly stems not only from a psychological cause, but a physical one too. We often associate traumatic experiences with only psychological effects, but the brain is also physically altered during these intense stress episodes. While fear is an embedded component to survival, it has major setbacks to a person’s ability to recall.
Severe trauma or stress on the body can alter the normal functioning on the parts of the brain that is responsible for emotion and memory. In a study done by J. Douglas Bremner, MD, it was found that the hippocampus in the brain is most vulnerable to stress. The hippocampus is an important part of the brain responsible for memory and learning new information. It is also important for recalling specific memories that took place during a certain time, place and location. One of Dr. Bremner’s studies measured the loss of neurons (brain cells) in the hippocampus of childhood victims of sexual or physical abuse.