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As I stated in my post “Why would anyone self-harm?”, sometimes self-harm can be a coping mechanism for traumas such as sexual abuse.

Sexual assault is a horrifying issue that is sadly much too common.  It is not limited to “a man assaulting a woman in a dark alley.”  It can happen to minors, the disabled or the elderly.   A family member can assault another, a “friend” can assault a friend, a teacher can assault teachers or students, and minors can assault other minors.  Assault transcends gender boundaries.  A person of any gender can be abused by anyone of any gender.

Other than just the terror in the moment, sexual abuse often leaves long-term distress.  Some consequences include but are not limited to:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Self-harm
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Mood and anxiety disorders
  • Relationship (romantic and platonic) issues
  • Sexual functioning problems
  • Suicide

[List generated with help from: Effects of Sexual Assault & Long Term Effects Child Sex Assault]

Sexual trauma can adversely affect relationships.  This seems obvious with sexual relationships.  Although this form of sex is hopefully of an entirely different manner, the act itself can trigger feelings of dread.  This can adversely affect an individual’s sexual performance, such as lowering someone’s sex drive.  Maybe less obvious is that trauma can also affect nonsexual relationships.  One explanation may be that a majority of abuse occurs through either romantic relationships or by an acquaintance, friend or family member.  It can be difficult to not develop trust issues, especially if you were assaulted by an acquaintance.  These relationships can also be affected due to other possible consequences of abuse, such as mood and anxiety disorders, self-harm, or anything that puts strain on a relationship.

What can you do to help?

Don’t criticize:  All sexual assault should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, some forms of abuse become a laughing matter or turn into a case of victim blaming.  One such situation is the assault of a man by a person of any gender identity.  Being assaulted by a man may make him the target of anti-gay sentiments (the same idea would apply to woman on woman assault).  Other individuals don’t even believe it is possible for a woman to rape a man.  (Arousal does not equal consent.  Sexual organs can act independently from your brain.)

Another circumstance is what I would call the “dangerous situation.”  Some examples include getting intoxicated in a public place without a responsible friend or being alone at a late hour in a public place.  Although it may be best to avoid such situations, being assaulted during them is not your fault.  No one is “asking for it” by walking to their car at 12 A.M.  There is also the infamous case of being assaulted because of wearing “revealing” clothing.

One more situation is that of “date rape”, in which someone is sexually assaulted by significant others or casual dates.  Being in a committed relationship does not indicate that a person is available for sex whenever the partner wishes.  Don’t assume that a person is accusing their partner or date of rape only because they “regret their decisions.”  This may be the case sometimes, which is quite unfortunate in that it leaves a terrible stigma for those who are reporting real cases.  Nevertheless, don’t assume that everyone is that cruel.

If someone is confiding in you do not ridicule him or her for being in any of these positions.  Listen with an open mind.

Give them space:  Opening up to someone about sexual assault is often no easy task.  Some individuals may be worried about trustworthiness or may not wish to “relive” any trauma by discussing it.  So if anyone tries to discuss his or her experience with you, do not pry.  Let them tell you what they want and when they want to.  Offer support but don’t bury them with questions.

Be careful with physical contact:  This doesn’t apply to everyone, but still be careful.  You may be super fond of giving all your friends hugs, but not everyone is comfortable with so much contact.  This can be applicable to anyone regardless of whether or not they have experienced sexual assault.  The safest bet is to briefly ask new people if they’re okay with the contact you wish to share.  “Is it okay if I hug you?” or anything similar.  It might seem awkward, especially if they reply with no, but it’s better than making someone uncomfortable when it could easily be prevented.

It isn’t their fault:  Too often survivors of sexual assault feel guilty or blame themselves for the event even if nothing in their power could have prevented it.  If people express guilt, gently remind them that they are not at fault.  Of course you should do this kindly and not try to rebuke them for these feelings.  Be considerate.

If you are suffering from trauma after sexual assault, it may be helpful to look into finding a therapist.  You can get through this.

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