Updated: Jul 28, 2021
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?