Case Study 1: A 16 Year Old Girl and Trauma

Sixteen-year-old Alexis uses drinking, drugs, and unsafe bodypiercing to tell her story. She was gang-raped when she was thirteen, but she was sexually violated by her father long before she was a teenager. She is very angry and very hurt by a family and a community that has never protected her. Most recently she has become a part of the juvenile justice system, serving time for prostitution and possession of illegal substances.

Alexis says:

“No way I am going to stop using my drugs unless I just can’t get my hands on them”,


“It’s my life and my body and nobody’s gonna tell me what I can do with it,” or “When I cut myself or get another piercing done, it feels good and then I don’t feel so angry for a while and it’s cool,”


“I am planning to get pregnant so I can have someone who loves me.”

Alexis did not solely create these awful feelings about herself and the resulting life choice on her own. Unfortunately, the State holds only her responsible.

Alexis has a chance to have real control of her life if she is supported through her trauma and not blamed for her life.

Helping young women fight abuse involves looking at the self-harming behavior and addressing it through the lens of the reenactment of trauma and abuse. All of this work demands a community of support, both through joining others who are also struggling with patterns of self-harm and finding others who are refusing to remain in abusive relationships.

For adults working with youth who self-harm, it is important to ask oneself important questions (click to see these Questions about Trauma and Abuse). It is also important to trust that healing will happen roller-coaster style (some changes will happen very quickly, but there will be just as rapid reversals). Alexis may stop using drugs and self-injuring for a few weeks, but then get into a new peer group where she will be invited to begin harming herself again. However, if the connections have been made to help her commit to the battle against self-harm, she will probably return to continue her work in therapy. Youth are remarkably resilient.

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