Consequences for the Victim of Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is a crime that not only takes hurts someone for the moment but it shatters their entire life. most women never fully recover from being a victim of sexual abuse. there are all different types of women who are sexually abused each day yet there tends to be a specific profile for the most frequent victims. there are many factors that come into play when dealing with sexual abuse such as the victim-offender relationship alcohol consumption and a prior record. Also, there are many myths about the victim. sexual abuse is an extremely sensitive issue for women victims and non-victims alike.
Sexual abuse is also referred to as “molestation” or “rape”. “Twenty-five percent of women have been battered, twenty-five perfect of all women have been sexually abused.” (Porterfield, 1996, pg 12). “The uniform crime reports and the national crime victimization survey indicate that Black and Hispanic women are at a higher risk of being a victim of rape than white women. women from ages 20-24 are the most likely to experience rape crime. Women with less education and lower income are also at a higher risk of becoming a victim of rape” (Renninson, 2002) Since 2001, the month of April was designated to sexual assault awareness month, the goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness on sexual violence and educate society on how to prevent it. Overall sexual abuse comes in all different forms and has long-term effects on the victim.
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Sexual abuse is an incident that affects millions of women each year. sexual abuse is when one being the perpetrator takes advantage of another person known as the victim sexually. sexual abuse can be verbal physical or any way that one forces a person to join in unwanted or non-consensual sexual contact or attention. Sexual assault is known to be one of the most unreported crimes. “In 2002 only thirty-nine percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to law officials” (Renninson, 2002). Victims don’t report their incident due to feeling ashamed or have the feeling that it was their fault. “The most common sexual abuse victims are women; ninety percent of adult rape victims are female as of 1998 an estimated 17.7 million American women had been victims of attempted or completed rape” (RAINN, N.D.). “Women ages of 16-19 are 4 times more likely to be victims of sexual assault.” (RAINN, N.D.). Women suffer from symptoms that have a long-lasting effect on their life such as; depression flashbacks PTSD eating/sleeping disorders suicidal thoughts and dissociation. Even though women are most likely to be victims of sexual assault they aren’t the only victims of sexual abuse; it can also happen to men and children.
“One in every six women and one in every thirty-three men have been reported being raped” (RAINN, N.D.). Sexual assault in men is talked about in society as uncommon because men who experience sexual assault choose to never reveal their story behind the incident because they fear being disbelieved shamed ignored and accused of being weak or perceived as gay. Males have a high fear as being noticed as not manly enough for not being able to prevent or protect themselves from the incident. A large majority of the perpetrators from male abuse are other males. “As of 1998 2.78 million men in the U.S. had been victims of attempted or completed rape. About three percent of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime” (RAINN, N.D.). Men experience long-lasting effect and suffer from emotional pain; sexual abuse affects men in many of the same ways it affects women. Anger, anxiety, and fear self-blame flashbacks suicidal thoughts and guilt are all common effects men experience after the incident.
“One child is sexually abused or raped every 45 minutes” (Porterfield, 1996, pg 12). Child sexual abuse is common which includes sexual activity with a minor. when the perpetrator engages with a child in this way they are committing a crime that can have long-lasting effects on the victim for the rest of their life. In the situation of child sexual abuse, the perpetrator is normally someone the child/family knows or a family member. The perpetrator is usually a male in which often manipulates the victim to stay quiet; powering over the victim to intimidate the child and telling the child that what is happening is normal. Signs to look out for and notice if your child is a victim of sexual abuse are: depression PTSD suicidal thoughts inappropriate sexual behaviors trouble in school nightmares/bed-wetting and self-harming. Victims of sexual abuse suffer from multiple symptoms but most can create long-lasting effects and affect a person more than another; every person and their story is different.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that occurs in people who have experienced and or witnessed a traumatic event. “PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of u.s. adults and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed PTSD in their lifetime. Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD” (Mcgill J Med, 2006). People who suffer from PTSD have disturbing, intense thoughts and feelings about their traumatic experience. “Ninety-four percent of women who are raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the two weeks following the rape” (Mcgill J Med, 2006). People tend to relive their incident through nightmares and flashbacks. Anger, fear, and sadness are often emotions a victim that suffers from PTSD will encounter. They may distance themselves from others and avoid many social interactions that could potentially remind them of their incident, resulting in being very sensitive and have strong reactions to certain things such as loud noises or even an accidental touch. “Thirty percent of women report symptoms of PTSD 9 months after the rape” (RAINN, N.D.).
For one to be diagnosed with PTSD symptoms need to last for at least a month or more. People that suffer from PTSD can experience other significant problems and can occur with other related conditions such as; depression, alcohol, and drug use can cause memory problems and other mental health problems. “Ninety-four percent of survivors of sexual assault experience symptoms of PTSD during the first two weeks after the incident and fifty percent of survivors of sexual assault struggle with long-term symptoms of PTSD” (Mcgill J Med, 2006). Post-traumatic stress disorder in assault victims is dramatically higher than popularity numbers of the disorder in general. A lot of people that suffer from PTSD feel as if they are at a very low place that they will never be the same again and that they’ll never get their life back together.
Most think that PTSD cannot be treated but it can both short- and long-term, psychotherapy, and medications can work well, and are often more effective if used together. With psychotherapy, there are three main goals to move forward; improvement of your symptoms teaching skills to help with coping and restoring your self-esteem. The idea is generally to change one’s thought patterns that are affecting daily life which happens through talking about the trauma with the hard concentration on getting to where the fear is coming from and trying to limit it the best you can.
There are 2 types of therapy treatments that one can choose from; “cognitive processing therapy a 12-week course with weekly sessions of 60-90 minutes and prolonged exposure therapy 8 to 15 sessions of 90 minutes. Both treatments will help the victim move in the right direction. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a treatment where the victim concentrates on listening to their therapist experiences. The goal of this treatment is to be able to think positive thoughts while remembering your trauma. This takes about 3 months of weekly sessions. Stress inoculation training is a type of therapy that can be done on your own or in a group. As one will talk about their trauma not in full detail if they don’t feel comfortable the focus is on changing how you deal with your stress from the incident. One will gain learning techniques such as massage and breathing and calming/relaxing the body to stop negative thoughts from arousing in their mind. It takes about 3 months to fully gain the skills in this therapy technique to make an impact on one’s life” (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, N.D.).
Another treatment that most people look into is simply taking medication because after a traumatizing event a lot of people don’t feel comfortable or open to talking about what happened. Medications help calm the brain and to stop thinking/reacting to what happened in your incident which includes having flashbacks or nightmares. Medications are also supposed to help one feel like they are going back into their normal state of life and look into the more positive light of things. There are several types of medications that affect your brain in relation to fear and anxiety. “Doctors will usually start with medications that affect the neurotransmitters: serotonin or norepinephrine (SSRIs and SNRIs) including Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and Effexor” (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. N.D.).
Due to the different responses evoked from medication and the fact that not everyone’s case of PTSD is not the same doctors may prescribe other medications to you which are known as off-label medications; antidepressants MAOIs, SGAS, and Benzodiazepines. However, medications don’t always do the trick, as they won’t exactly get rid of your symptoms completely. But, they can make them feel less intense and make them more manageable and bearable to withhold. Overall experiencing a life-threatening incident or re-experiencing abuse can lead to the development of PTSD.
There are two sides of the story the perpetrator and the victim. “7 out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone who knows the victim in some way or another. Fifty-nine percent were acquaintances, thirty-four percent were family members, seven percent were strangers to the victim” (RAINN, N.D.). “The most common perpetrators are white males over the age of 50 and often have criminal histories” (RAINN, N.D.). There are many factors that can lead to why they did what they did. The perpetrator may misread information given out by women in social situations and associations between sex and aggression.
Drugs and alcohol play a role in sexual abuse on both sides; the perpetrator and the victim. Alcohol and drugs affect your body in ways as clouding judgment and impairing one’s ability to interpret information. People act violently when intoxicated because due to having clouding judgment at the time they don’t acknowledge that they will be held accountable for their behavior.
During sexual abuse, the amygdala is the part that is responsible for feeling scared and afraid and recognizes the situation as a threat and sends signals to the hypothalamus. Neural clusters in the hypothalamus influence sexual behavior; thinking about sex the hypothalamus will secrete hormones. The hormones will trigger the “master gland” to influence the sex glands to release the hormones, intensifying the thoughts of sex in the cerebral cortex. Then the hypothalamus sends signals to the pituitary and HPA axis kicks in leading to a hormonal flood in the victim’s body. The catecholamines hormones secreted by the adrenals during a traumatic event are going to be at a very high level during the incident. These hormones are helpful in the flight or fight response but they also impair circuits in the brain that control rational thoughts.
The opiate hormones act as a natural morphine in the body which are also released in high levels during the incident blocking the physical and emotional pain. Communication will be flat/monotone after the incident because opiate morphine isn’t letting the emotions come through causing emotions to be blunt. Corticosteroids are steroid hormones that release at high levels and reduce energy in the body causing victims not to fight back or flee the situation. The body freezes because of the hormonal activation by HPA axis. Tonic immobility is in effect and triggers the body to shut down entirely. Tonic immobility is an automatic response; increasing breathing eye closure and muscular paralysis. The body is paralyzed in the state of fear. “Fifty percent of victims experience tonic immobility” (Sexual Violence, N.D.).
Sexual assault has become something deemed “normal” in our society as we see it all the time. The fact that we hear about sexual assault so much that girls and boys are taught about how to avoid it from such a young age shows how this society works. There needs to be a change in how we view and talk about sexual assault. There needs to be more taught on this without any sexism because this is one of the issues that is going around in today’s world. The effect that sexual assault has on victims is an issue that needs to be addressed and focused on. This is not a simple matter and it can’t be swept under the rug. This issue needs to be focused on because it is a serious issue, especially in our generation.