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So, in a story, I have a girl who has been ritually abused and raped by her father for being born, as he wanted sons to continue his bloodline. Thing is, this sort of thing has never happened to me. Feeling worthless every day? Yes. Trying and failing to measure to impossible expectations? I can do that. But the emotional trauma is never something I've experienced. So, how can I portray it through my character in a way that can make others empathize or sympathize for her?

By the way, the mother is too submissive, but is alive, and the siblings never knew. And she's in her twenties, and a police officer wanting to specialize in this field. We never actually hear about the nitty gritty, we find out via her friend and possible love interest later on. I quote "He still comes in the night, though I've been out of his house for so long." referring to her having nightmares about the trauma.

  • Does she have siblings? Is the mother alive? – Rasdashan Apr 5 at 21:44
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I suggest you research what victims go through. I'm sure there are online support fora where people talk about their experiences. Alternatively, you could reach out to victims and interview them. It seems likely that--while there may be similarities among victims--different people will have different experiences and different ways of coping, such that, eventually, you'll have to make a creative decision about your fictional character.

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    +1 for reminding that the question asks for "character development" not torture porn. – wetcircuit Apr 5 at 23:47
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We write about things we have never experienced. Doing some research is always a good idea. If I were you, I would start by reading what is available; the forums, blogs and articles written by women who have survived such. Once you have more of a grasp of it, then request an interview.

Learn how it is possible to internalize that kind of trauma, how her damaged psyche might manifest itself. Imagine yourself without power, allies or friends; the family that should protect doesn’t. You speak of it to no one, not one word. It is normal to you, but you know it isn’t normal.

Less is more. Let the reader fill in the blanks. Graphic descriptions of long term abuse can be too much. In one of my works, I go into some detail in a torture scene, but it is fairly brief and does not recur.

In the end, your fictional young girl will respond to her situation in a way that is true to her, gives perhaps some insight into who she is and satisfies the reader. Perhaps she will choose success as the best revenge and become much more successful than her siblings. She, the one who is nothing but disappointment, becomes a successful physician.

You know her best, just find a way to feather the information you gather into a credible account that suits her.

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I think the ritualized rape is bit of a red herring here unless you want to write torture porn. The brain has ways of dealing with and responding to mental trauma and they do not particularly depend on the specific source of trauma AFAIK. So you probably do not need to worry about the specifics of the cause just describe the resulting symptoms.

So you can start with something like the generic psychological trauma page on Wikipedia. (Not probably the best page to start with and not even the first google hit but linking to Wikipedia is usually safe as everybody knows what it is and how reliable it is.) Move on to read about the specific symptoms that fit.

You can also be more specific and read about the effects of child sexual abuse.

Note that the two above have lots of overlap with the expected disorders they can cause.

One issue is that it would be tempting to go overboard with this. To over-describe the specifics of the abuse or to give the character too many symptoms or make them too powerful. This is definitely one of those things where less is more though. Usually she is coping but sometimes something catches her by surprise.

  • well, we never actually hear about the gritty details of said rape. Just, we know through the story that she's been abused. – Kale Slade May 15 at 23:26
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Read

The only thing which will help you here is reading and researching. Most of the events in life you write about are not necessarily experienced. A good writer may end up writing something which a reader can completely relate to but the writer might not have ever experienced it.

Try to read more about biographies of victims who have gone through such unfortunate traumatic experiences and bounced back and try to build an emotional connect. Emotions will play an important role here.

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