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Sahar Gul, a Victim of Psychological Trauma

By Esmael Darman

MD, M.S. Clinical & Counseling Psychology

The recent case of domestic violence reported by the Afghan media and press reminded me of complex trauma. But before I explain what “complex trauma” is, I would like to mention a summary of this case.

According to AFP, Sahar Gul, a 15-year-old Afghan girl, was “brought to hospital with severe shock.” The report adds that the Afghan police have rescued Sahar Gul, who was beaten and locked up in a bathroom for over five months after she defied her in-laws who tried to force her into prostitution. She was found in the basement of her husband’s house in northeastern Baghlan Province late on Monday [Dec 26, 2011] after her parents reported her disappearance to the police. AFP quotes Fazel Rahman, the district police chief, as saying that “she was beaten, her fingernails were removed and her arm was broken.”

When you watch the video of Sahar Gul at the hospital, you can clearly see the severity of injuries on her body. Her ears are partially cut. Her eyes and hands are swollen. There are scars on her arms, legs, and feet. The video shows a healed deep cut on her foot. There is barely any hair left on her head. This is the image of a 15 year old girl!

As much as I dislike watching such videos and images, my profession requires me to be aware of such cases, to stay focused, and to read and write about them. As I was reading the report and watching the video of Sahar Gul, I asked myself: These physical wounds will heal one day, but what about the psychological wounds? Are they going to heal as quickly as the physical injuries?

Sahar Gul's picture is not posted here because it is too graphic

Unfortunately, the answer is no! I am not going to explain the causes of domestic violence, because I have already published some detailed articles on this subject, particularly on Rawan Online Farsi. Those visitors that can read Farsi, please check the links I have mentioned at the end of this post. Nevertheless, I highlight something else here: Complex Trauma.

You may have heard of PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a type of anxiety disorder. It can develop after a person is exposed to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one’s own or someone else’s physical, sexual, or psychological integrity, overwhelming the individual’s ability to cope. It is the most severe type of anxiety disorders.

But what if such an event is repeated over and over? Imagine you are a child trapped in a basement, tortured on a daily basis, and all your support system and connection to the outside world is cut off. How does it feel? You may not be even able to picture such a setting for just 10 seconds!

This way of getting exposed to physical and psychological trauma usually leads to complex trauma. Some authors define it as Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). It is a psychological injury that results from protracted exposure to prolonged social and/or interpersonal trauma with lack or loss of control, disempowerment, and in the context of either captivity or entrapment, i.e. the lack of viable escape route for the victim.

This definition perfectly applies to Sahar Gul’s case. She was kept captive by her closest family members (husband and in-laws), was tortured for a long period of time, had no control over her destiny, was disempowered, and it was impossible for her to escape. She was probably raped many times already.

Such cases prove that we, as a nation, are in an extreme state of denial when it comes to violence. Violence has gradually turned into a method of conflict resolution, not to mention that some sadistic personalities justify their acts or simply get away with their violent behavior thanks to the prevalent secrecy of our culture and family system.

In addition, it is wrong to believe it is only men to violate women’s rights. We should stop believing in myths. There are many women who are involved in domestic violence. Even in this case three women including Sahar Gul’s mother in-law had been arrested in connection with the case but her husband had fled the area. Such women are probably the victims of violence themselves. They may come from families who used violence against them and taught them violent behavior as a result.

Let’s be honest! Violence produces violence. It is not limited to only men. Although men are obviously involved in more cases given the patriarchal values, both genders are usually implicated in such cases.

Now that Sahar Gul is getting treatment, I hope her physical condition will improve quickly. However, is it going to be the same for her psychological wounds? Of course not. Unfortunately, Sahar Gul will never be the same person. Her childhood has been taken away from her. Her innocence has long gone. It may take her years to trust another person in her life. She definitely needs long-term therapy.

I want to close this note by these questions:  What do we need to do to contain violence, particularly domestic violence? Can we guarantee a better generation in the presence of a high number of abusive men and women?


1-      Women’s Violence Against Women: http://www.rawanonline.com/womensroleinviolence-htm/

2-      The Major Causes of Domestic Violence: http://www.rawanonline.com/domestic-violence-factors-htm/

3-      Domestic Violence and Its Social Consequences: http://www.rawanonline.com/domesticviolence-htm/

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Rawan Online is the first website on psychology and mental health for Afghans covering a wide range of topics related to health and relationships.

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