Sexual violence is any sexual contact or behavior that happens without your consent. Other names used for sexual violence – rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault. Sexual violence is about power and control not sex or love and includes rape, sexual child abuse, incest, fondling, attempted rape, human trafficking, sexual harassment, or any other type of unwanted sexual contact. A sexual assault can happen anywhere and at any time. The majority of assaults occur in places ordinarily thought to be safe, such as homes, cars, and offices. There is a misconception that most survivors don’t know their attacker. According to RAINN.org (2018), statistics show that 59% were acquaintances, 34% were family members, 7% were strangers to the survivor.
Sexual violence can have long-term effects on survivors if left untreated. 94% of women who are raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the two weeks following the event.
Detecting possible sexual abuse in children is possible. The following signs may be a cause for concern:
- Torn or stained underwear
- Frequent urinary or yeast infections
- Nightmares and anxiety around bedtime
- Bedwetting past the appropriate age
- Preoccupation with one’s body
- Anger and tantrums
- Depressed and withdrawn mood
- Sexual behaviors or knowledge that are not age-appropriate
An individual does not need proof of abuse, just reasonable suspicion. If there is reasonable suspicion, then call your state’s Child Protective Services and they will investigate.
If the survivor is left untreated then the symptoms will display themselves differently during adulthood. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2011) report that an individual will report chronic and diffuse pain, especially abdominal or pelvic pain, lower pain threshold, anxiety and depression, self-neglect, and eating disorders. Regarding their sexual health, adults will report disturbances of desire, arousal, and orgasm. As well as having had a sexually transmitted infection, unintended pregnancy, and a higher number of partners.
There are highly effective trauma-focused therapy treatments available. These include Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). Each treatment is different but helps the survivor work through the experience by sharing their story and processing emotions. Benefits of trauma-focused therapy are as follows:
- Process specific memories, through carefully guided talk and/or writing
- Challenge yourself to reconnect and do non-dangerous things you have been avoiding since the traumatic event(s)
- Challenge trauma-based thinking, so that you can restore a healthy mental framework for living
- Make meaning of what happened and how it has affected your deepest self and your family
- Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Increase personal sense of confidence and competence
- Regain your quality of life, including enhanced relationships with others, greater activity level, and more positive and stable mood
- Reduce, if not eliminate, trauma-reaction symptoms/symptoms of PTSD