Why Rape-Related PTSD is the Ultimate Legalization Argument

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Trigger Warning: This article discusses rape, sexual assault, abuse and institutionalized sexism.

Can you imagine sitting in a court room, answering detailed questions about your sexual assault, reliving every single detail in front of a jury who has been told to treat your story with skepticism? Can you imagine a prosecutor waving his hands dramatically, pointing out to everyone present that you didn’t call the cops, you didn’t have the assailant arrested or prosecuted, so there’s no proof of the crime? Does that sound backwards? It isn’t.

Given that a statistically tiny percentage of rapes end in prosecution, this terrible scenario could be the future for an untold number of Americans who seek to legally use cannabis for their rape, sexual abuse, or intimate violence related post traumatic stress disorder.

Although this is an area in which it is notoriously difficult to obtain accurate statistics, even the inacccurate and likely low estimates by the government paint a bleak picture about the number of Americans who likely suffer from abuse or assault-related PTSD. Roughly 1 in 5 American women are subject to a sexual assault in their lives, with statistics being considered woefully inadequate for measuring both female perpetrator/male victim and assaults involving a member of a gender or sexual minority.

A Canadian study about the prevalence of PTSD in assault survivors found that roughly half of female rape survivors developed PTSD. In Canada, the national statistic about rape is also that roughly 20% of women will be sexually assaulted, similar to in the United States. That means that if those numbers are extrapolated, in Canada and the United States, roughly 10% (if not more) of the female population and unknown percentages of the male and queer populations suffer from assault or abuse-related PTSD, as reporting rates are low and unreliable at best.

Even in states with medical marijuana programs, PTSD is often not included in the list of qualifying conditions, meaning that in order to legally access medication, victims of rape and domestic violence have to speak up and demand access to the only medication that effectively mitigates the symptoms of PTSD. For some, this can be as traumatizing as testifying in a prosecution, while others may find it freeing. However individuals respond, it shouldn’t be necessary.

Even now, in Arizona, while PTSD is being added to the list of qualifying conditions, the state is insisting that patients receiving a PTSD recommendation for medical marijuana must be actively undergoing conventional treatment for PTSD. That means that those who don’t have health insurance, don’t have the financial ability to pay for therapy, or who don’t have their symptoms controlled enough to feel comfortable in therapy are left out in the cold, facing prosecution for their treatment. Even those who have tried and failed to improve using conventional therapy could be left without protection.

Of course, the same is true of survivors in almost every state in this country. Given that 97% of rapists never see a day in prison, it’s very feasible that survivors attempting to assert the medical use of marijuana to treat their rape-related PTSD will wind up on trial, desperately trying to prove they were traumatized and have a medical need for their medication. Or worse still, they might be denied the right to assert an affirmative defense based on their medical use of cannabis, and not be allowed to present the jury with the truth. It already happens, even to people dying of cancer.

Rape, childhood abuse, molestation, and intimate abuse survivors shouldn’t be victimized again by bureaucracy or by the justice system that likely failed to punish their assailant. They shouldn’t have to fill out forms or answer any questions. They should just be able to safely, quietly purchase cannabis in a secure retail environment and to consume it in their own homes without fear of prosecution or losing their job.

For these reasons, simply legalizing medical marijuana will not suffice; because so many assaults go unreported and unprosecuted, there will be no way to prove who is using cannabis for PTSD and who is just trying to use a difficult-to-disprove (or prove) excuse when facing prosecution. Prosecutors and police will likely be even more heavy-handed than they already are with people who attempt to report sexual assaults in order to weed out the “fakers” they’ll no doubt be preoccupied with. The only way to ensure victims and survivors are not further victimized is to give them legal, discreet over-the-counter access to legal marijuana.


For previous Ladybud articles about sexual assault and cannabis, click here.




Photo Credit: Pietro da Cortona under public domain via Wikimedia Commons