The month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and a time to reflect on this important issue and understand how we can recognize and support survivors. To begin, we need to define sexual assault. Sexual assault is when one person imposes or forces unwanted sexual behavior on another. Sexual abuse or molestation sometimes involves threats, violence, and intimidation, but sexual abuse can also be coercive and not involve overt violence.
People of all ages – children, adolescents, adults, or the elderly – are affected by sexual abuse. Anyone can become a victim, regardless of gender or race. In times of need, discrimination makes it difficult to help loved ones. People believe men cannot experience sexual assault because they are the dominant sex in society, but that is not true.
According to CDC.gov, one in 4 women and about 1 in 26 men have experienced completed or attempted rape. About 1 in 9 men were made to penetrate someone during his lifetime. We must do more to raise awareness about sexual assault and take steps to prevent it, as these statistics are alarming. We also must be capable of recognizing when our loved ones have been victims of sexual assault and know how to provide support to them.
Recognizing The Signs
When a loved one has been the victim of sexual assault, how can you identify it? It is not always easy to recognize the signs, but there are many things you can keep in mind. If you are aware of the signs, you will not only be able to recognize when someone is affected, but you will also be able to provide assistance and comfort to a victim after experiencing something that has been very traumatic.
It’s important to recognize the signs of sexual assault so the victim can get help. The longer they wait to seek help, the harder it is for them to trust people around them. Let the victim know you are trustworthy by making them comfortable. Even the smallest change in attitude or lifestyle could be a sign.
After experiencing sexual assault, victims can go through a whirlwind of emotions and not know how to cope. Trusted outsiders can help them through this challenge so they know they’re not alone and can seek help. To identify sexual abuse, there are three types of signs: physical, behavioral, and emotional. When trying to detect sexual assault in a loved one, let’s go through each one in detail.
It is important to note that physical signs don’t always exist, as some diseases may be internal or sexually transmitted. It is important, however, to be aware of the visible signs. According to Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, physical signs include pain or itching in the genital area, bruises or bleeding in external genitalia, venereal disease, nightmares or other sleep disturbances, frequent stomach illness with no identifiable reason, loss of appetite or trouble eating or swallowing, frequent genital or urinary tract infections or irritations, torn or stained or bloodied underclothing.
In order to determine whether a child has experienced sexual assault, physical signs are very important. A doctor can help identify if your child has been abused. Our society’s most vulnerable generation is the child. Children are most at risk of sexual violence. Ages 12-34 are the highest risk years for rape and sexual assault. Those age 65 and older are 92% less likely than 12-24 years old to be a victim of rape or sexual assault, and 83% less likely than 25-29-year-olds. It is important for children to be comfortable speaking up, but if they are not, you must notice the physical signs.
After experiencing sexual assault, a victim may exhibit many changes in their behavior, including difficulty trusting others, even loved ones. Relationships can be difficult for them to maintain. A challenge they face is determining who is trustworthy and who is not. Behavioral signs include an increase in physical complaints, problems with bedtime or fear of going to sleep, and fear of certain people or places.
Substance abuse can be one of the biggest behavioral signs. Rape victims are 3.4 times more likely to use marijuana. They are 5.3 times more likely to use prescription drugs for non-medicinal purposes, 6.4 times more likely to use cocaine, and 10 times more likely to use hard drugs other than cocaine. Many sexual assault survivors turn to substance abuse as an easy way out. Their perception is that it is the best way to cope. Substance abuse rates are higher among men and women who experience sexual abuse, especially survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Survivors may experience a change in attitude after being assaulted, and they may not be able to cope with the aftermath. Survivors often isolate themselves and distance themselves from family and friends. It is typical for them to stay in a quiet area alone and not speak much. Their interests in activities that once occupied their time are withdrawn. Emotional signs include the following: unexplained fear or dislike of certain people or places, lack of confidence, and sudden mood swings: rage, fear, anger, or withdrawal.
Although there are many emotional and psychological reactions to sexual assault, one of the most common is depression. Rape victims were three times more likely than non-victims of crime to have ever had a major depressive episode. Also, they were 3.5 times more likely to be currently experiencing a major depressive episode. It’s important to keep in mind how traumatizing sexual assault can be for a victim. It impacts their perception of life, and mood swings are very common. Trust is important to them, even if it’s hard at first.
Spreading The Word
At this time of year, it is crucial to spread the word about sexual assault and the resources available to those who have experienced it. It is the 22nd anniversary of SAAM this April, and this year’s topic is Drawing Connections: Prevention Demands Equity. Survivors of sexual assault are not alone. The legal system, hotlines, and counseling are some of the resources that offer support to victims.
Creating a safe and respectful culture online and offline is also important. All of us must send the message that sexual assault is wrong and will not be tolerated. If we see something that looks dangerous, we should take action immediately. Most Americans are afraid to seek help or use the appropriate resources for their mental health. To overcome the pain of an assault, victims must be encouraged to seek help.
Victims often find it hard to accept that they are more than what they experienced. After a traumatic event, therapy can be helpful in leading survivors of sexual assault to take back control of their lives.. Specialized therapists can offer a multitude of resources to help heal and reassure them that they’re in a safe place. Victims can reclaim their sexual health, improve their physical health, and learn how to control their behavioral health.
It’s important to remember that anyone can be victimized. We all have a responsibility to prevent sexual assault. Everyone can play a role in preventing sexual assault by raising awareness and taking action. Please call the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-656-4673 if you or a loved one were affected by sexual assault and are ready to seek help.