Nobody is immune to the reality of sexual assault and rape. Women, men, and children of all ages can be victims of such an atrocity. It is important to educate oneself and help those in need to respond and cope with this trauma. Understanding the dynamics of sexual abuse can help people to better support friends and family that are experiencing this kind of violence.
Rape and other forms of sexual abuse, such as date rape, marital violence, forcible touch, and assault, can be traumatic and devastating experiences that may cause long-term mental health complications. Many survivors may feel ashamed and blamed, and not seek help. It’s important to normalize this conversation and help those affected to get the help they need.
Sexual Assault Takes Many Forms
- Rape is forced sexual contact without consent. Date rape is included in this as well as marital violence and rape, forcible sexual contact, and various forms of assault
- Abuse of children can happen by people they know within the family, friends, loved ones, or strangers. It is more likely to be perpetrated by someone they know. This can include photographs being taken and exploited online, physical contact, or grooming over the internet
- Non-consensual contact is unwanted touching or experiencing advances the person did not want. Attempted rape falls into this category
- Non-contact sexual abuse can also fall into emotional abuse. This can include someone making suggestive, inappropriate comments, acting inappropriately, or engaging with revenge porn sites that publish photos of people without consent.
Mental Health and Assault
When sexual assault occurs, survivors may feel they are not able to handle the challenge alone. They hide behind shame and guilt, blaming themselves for the assault. Due to the trauma, they are at greater risk for mental health conditions. Survivors of sexual abuse may develop:
- Depressive symptoms: this can feel like hopeless or as if nothing is going to get better. This occurs especially if they are feeling unheard, invalidated, and have not had trauma addressed with any type of therapy
- Anxiety: the body holds trauma inside of it, which can come out as rage, anger, and anxious thoughts or feelings. They may feel afraid to leave their house and have a chronic fear of the world around them, including anyone or anything that reminds them of the assault
- PTSD: a person who experiences sexual assault may experience memories of the abuse, flashbacks that disrupt their daily activities, and feelings of fear or anxiety. Complex posttraumatic stress (C-PTSD) can yield chronic fear and disruption to a person’s life
- Addiction: survivors of assault and sexual abuse are more likely to use drugs or alcohol to numb the feelings, thoughts, and fears they have. It may lead to other mental health complications down the road
Male Survivors of Abuse
Men who experience assault can face severe stigma and avoidance of the reality that they can also experience assault. When men report, they often face doubt and shaming. They are blamed for not being ‘man enough’ or for being weak. Due to stigma, they are more likely to hide the assault and less likely to label it abuse. They may not even try to report it and self-harm or try to find other ways of coping with the trauma. Mental health issues can occur, along with addiction.
Sexual abuse and assault can lead to a person feeling worthless and ashamed. On top of this, they may have chronic pain issues or suffer from physical disabilities from serving. People who experience trauma must receive treatment, care, and trauma-informed therapeutic support. This will help them process the experience healthily and find hope for the future. If they connect to others who understand what they’re dealing with, they tend to feel less alone and isolated. The key is to get them support, a connection to treatment, and a community to help them think people care about their well-being.
March 9, 2023
5 mins read