MILWAUKEE (July 26, 2021) – A mental health issue found among people who have experienced intense trauma like sexual assaults, being sex trafficked or caught in war zones, is on the rise and needs to be recognized by healthcare workers, first responders, law enforcement officers, lawyers and judges.
“Many human trafficking survivors struggle with Dissociative Identity Disorder,” said Debbie Lassiter, D. Div., the nonprofit’s CEO and co-founder of Convergence Resource Center (CRC). “Unfortunately, there is a deficit in awareness of this illness and little in the way of support or services. We are trying to change that on Saturday, Sept. 11.”
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which used to be called multiple personality disorder, is a mental health condition recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. An estimated 3.5 million people in the U.S. are affected – that is equal to the entire population of Connecticut, Iowa or Utah.
DID is marked by the presence of two or more distinct personality states within one individual. Each of these personality states (sometimes known as “alters”) may have a unique name and characteristics, including a different voice, gender, and set of mannerisms. The shifting of identities happens involuntarily and is described as being undesirable, causing severe distress or impairment to a person with DID.
“Very often police officers or first responders will take a statement from a victim, not knowing that person has DID. A minute later, that victim may have involuntarily changed alters and literally, that officer or first responder is speaking to a completely different person,” explained Lassiter, who works with victims of human trafficking. “All too often, the victim’s statements aren’t accepted or are dismissed, criminal charges don’t get filed and the victim doesn’t get the help they need.”
CRC’s eighth annual The Epidemic and The Game aims to change that. The half-day seminar on Sept. 11 will feature a service provider, and a psychotherapist, and a person who was diagnosed with DID almost 30 years ago who now trains others how to work with people with DID. Each will share their perspective while offering tools and techniques to help people with this illness.
“DID is a really creative survival process that our highly developed brains create to survive unrelenting trauma,” said Olga Trujillo of Star Prairie, Wis. “That’s why it is so important to diagnose it, begin treatment and start the healing process so that the person can move through the world safely.”
Thirty years ago, Trujillo was married and doing well in her career as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. A disturbing sexual assault scene in a movie led to what she thought were panic attacks, prompting her to seek help from a therapist.
“Those panic attacks were actually flashbacks to long-suppressed memories of being sexually abused and trafficked for sex by my father when I was a young child,” said Trujillo. “I was fortunate to be diagnosed with DID fairly quickly and getting the healing process started.”
Trujillo worked with psychiatrist Richard Chefetz, M.D., a Washington, D.C. specialist on DID and former president of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. They identified more than 120 “alters” during a five-year period.
“Each one of those personalities had a role in holding on to what happened to me,” Trujillo said. “DID is like a house with many doors that are locked. Parts of your life that were traumatic are in those locked rooms. The process of healing is identifying those parts of your life, letting them go, and leaving those rooms.”
Trujillo said she has only two “alters” now – one who is very protective, and one who is very young and sees the good in the world. Since her healing process, Trujillo has become an internationally sought speaker and author helping advocates, first responders and others better understand the impact of trauma on survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking. Her memoir, The Sum of My Parts, was released in 2011. She is featured in the video “A Survivor’s Story”, a documentary and training video based on her personal experience.
“DID is real. It is common in survivors of human trafficking but very few in law enforcement recognize or believe it is a real condition,” said Trujillo. “It’s problematic for law enforcement – police officers, prosecutors and judges – because you can’t address the crime (of sex trafficking) and not believe the victim. If you don’t know what you’re seeing (with DID), you can’t investigate. And that’s advantageous to traffickers.”
Awareness of DID is increasing, thanks to more research and the bravery shown by those with DID who tell their stories in order to reduce the stigma of the illness. This includes actress AnnaLynne McCord, who appeared in the TV series Nip/Tuck and 90210, revealed earlier this year that she was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and that stems from being sexually assaulted as a teenager.
“With knowledge, there is a way forward through treatment for the millions of people with DID,” said Lassiter. That’s what The Epidemic and The Game represents – a way forward. Because of the continuing pandemic, we are offering this training virtually rather than in-person.”
Attendance is free, but space is limited. The Epidemic and The Game Is on Saturday, September 11 from 9 am to 12 pm. Registration is open on CRC’s website (https://www.convergenceresource.org/events/the-epidemic-and-the-game-2021).
For more information about DID or help to find treatment, you can visit the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) website (https://www.isst-d.org/resources/dissociation-faqs). For further support, you can call The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine at 1-800-950-6264 or email at [email protected].
About Convergence Resource Center
Convergence Resource Center (CRC) is a faith-based nonprofit community service organization providing support for men and women rebuilding their lives after trauma with an emphasis on justice-involved women and female survivors of human trafficking. It collaborates with more than 50 community service organizations locally and nationally through partnerships and membership in several human trafficking task forces. To learn more, call (414) 979-0591 or visit www.convergenceresource.org.