According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, in the United States, 1 in 5 women have experienced attempted or completed rape during the course of their lives.
What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault is sexual contact or activity that occurs in the event where a victim does not give consent or displays the desire to carry out any sexual acts with the offender. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, there are many different types of sexual assault. This includes rape, attempted rape, unwanted touching, and sexual coercion, which is when a perpetrator tricks, pressures, or threatens someone into performing sexual acts with them.
Why is sexual assault a serious issue?
Sexual assault is a serious issue because it involves a victim’s body being wrongfully violated, which leads to long term problems with mental, physical, and reproductive health. To illustrate this, “women who have experienced sexual violence during adulthood are more likely than other women to use and abuse substances, including alcohol, illicit drugs and prescription drugs” (Martin et al., 2009). In addition, a female’s reproductive health is at risk when she undergoes sexual violence, as “genital-anal trauma, dysmenorrheal (severe pain during menstruation), menorrhagia (excessive/prolonged menstrual bleeding), and sexual dysfunction” are common in survivors (Martin et al., 2009). To top it off, victims frequently suffer from sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis, chlamydia, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), human papillomavirus infection (HPV), herpes, and gonorrhea. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gonorrhea and chlamydia drastically decrease the chances of a woman getting pregnant in the future. Furthermore, viruses such as HIV and HPV can be deadly because they weaken the immune system, which leaves the body incapable of fighting diseases, such as cancer.
Unfortunately, this is all too common. Disturbingly, “in America, a woman is raped every 2 minutes” (Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs). Since sexual assault repeatedly occurs in society, it is a large issue that thousands of victims cope with mentally and physically on a daily basis.
What impact does sexual assault have on victims?
Sexual assault is physically, emotionally, and psychologically traumatic for a victim. For example, a victim may suffer from an eating disorder as a way of coping with the aftermath of the assault. To illustrate this, a supermodel named Carré Otis discussed her experiences with child molestation and stated, “...I began to realize that two triggers for disordered eating were sex and sexuality. I began to see how trauma in my past – profound violations of my body including molestation and rape – had led me to feel dissociated from my body, as if it was no longer my own” (Otis 2014). Furthermore, on a physical level, someone who undergoes rape may be forced to deal with pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases from anal, vaginal, or oral sex. On a psychological and emotional level, victims have a high possibility of suffering from panic attacks or dissociation, which is when someone disconnects from their thoughts or surroundings as a way of coping from the sexual trauma. In addition, post-traumatic stress disorder is commonly seen in people who have dealt with sexual assault, and this mental illness is defined as experiencing anxiety, fear, or stress after a troubling event in one’s life. Lastly, depression is another side effect of sexual assault, which can unfortunately lead to self-harm and suicide.
How does stigmatization affect a victim’s ability to speak out?
Victims often have a hard time disclosing their experiences with sexual assault due to shame, embarrassment, and fear. For instance, a woman named Lerato Chondoma was raped by a man at a South African University in 2001 and did not tell anyone about it until 2018. She said that she kept quiet due to the fact that she consumed alcohol before she was assaulted, causing her to feel like the whole situation was her fault. Furthermore, a woman named Amy Selwyn was raped by a professional mentor in a hotel room when she visited New York for her job. In an interview, Selwyn stated, “I felt stupid. I felt vulnerable. I felt humiliated. And I also felt like if I said anything, my career would be over” (Selwyn 2018). Due to these awful feelings after her assault, Amy did not tell anyone about it for over three decades.
Unfortunately, even when victims speak of their assault, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network declares that out of 1,000 sexual assaults reported, 995 perpetrators will walk free. The common trend in society where offenders walk away without a punishment demoralizes women and discourages them from taking legal action.
What resources are available for sexual assault victims?
Victims can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which is ran by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. The number for the hotline is 800-656-HOPE (4673). Another hotline to call is the Victims of Crime Resource Center, and the number is 1-800-VICTIMS (842-8467).
If someone was raped, they may complete a rape kit in order to collect evidence of the assault for a court case. A rape kit is also helpful with determining any injuries sustained from the assault. When performing a rape kit, a medical expert gathers semen, saliva, skin cells, hair, and urine from the victim’s body. The fingernails will be scraped, the hair will be brushed through, and the anus, genitals, mouth, and skin are swabbed. A urine test is also needed to identify any date- rape drugs in the victim’s system, such as Rophynol. Rape kits are performed in outpatient settings or emergency rooms. In the Bay Area, sexual assault victims are able to receive free rape kits at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose or Stanford Hospital.
To help treat emotional trauma, victims can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at the number, 800-662-HELP (4357), to talk to a mental health care specialist. Asking local hospitals may also be helpful since patient outreach offices can refer victims to free or affordable independent and group therapy.
Sexual assault is a psychologically and physically exhausting nightmare that many people are forced to go through each year. To make matters worse, stigmatization causes victims to feel guilt, shame, and embarrassment. When will we stop blaming victims and start pointing the fingers at those who wrongfully violate innocent human beings?
Written and Researched By KYLIE FITZPATRICK