Let’s Talk About Sexual Assault

CEH provides mental health and addiction recovery services to patients ages 4 and up.

In addition to being Counseling Awareness Month and Stress Awareness Month, April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month. While the topic of sexual assault may be uncomfortable, it is essential to discuss it because a large portion of the population is directly affected by it, and even more are affected indirectly.

What is Sexual Assault

To properly discuss a subject, it is important to have a working definition. According to Melissa Porrey, LPC, NCC, sexual assault can generally be defined as an event that involves unwanted, non-consensual sexual conduct or behavior toward someone. This includes sexual behaviors toward those who cannot give consent, such as children or those with disabilities which affect their ability to give affirmative consent. It is also critically important to know that sexual assaults can be tremendously psychologically damaging and have a dramatic impact on mental health.

Statistically Speaking

According to research published in the journal Pediatrics, females aged 12 to 34 are the most likely to have experienced sexual assault. The study also shows that 18 percent of high school girls and 12 percent of high school boys have experienced an unwanted sexual experience; the incidence only increases in children with disabilities.

In the armed services, sexual assault is also an issue. According to research published by RAND Corp., about 1 percent of active-duty men and 5 percent of active-duty women have experienced sexual assault. Further, the research shows that those who reported having been assaulted indicated an average of more than two such incidents in years prior.

As a population, women are by far the largest group to experience sexual assault. According to research published in Clinical Psychology Review, between 17 and 25 percent of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, as compared to 1 to 3 percent of men.  

What Happens After a Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is often, and understandably, highly traumatic. Someone who has experienced a sexual assault may exhibit:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Shock
  • Hyper-alertness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Nightmares

The initial shock of the assault will often fade with time, but ongoing mental health issues often remain. These issues can include anxiety, depression, and hypervigilance. The individual may also have difficulty concentrating, may be preoccupied, may have a sense of betrayal, may ruminate on the experience of the assault to see what they might have done differently, and may minimize or deny the incident in an attempt to cope with the trauma. They may also exhibit a need for control, avoidance of people or places that remind them of the assault, or may even isolate socially.

Not all survivors of sexual assault develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but studies show that many do. When comparing the incidence of PTSD amongst non-sexual and sexual assault survivors, between 12 and 24 percent of non-sexual assault survivors developed PTSD compared to 80 percent of sexual assault survivors.

Overcoming Sexual Assault

Experiencing sexual assault can have a significant impact on the survivor’s life, both short term and long term. In addition to the risk of developing PTSD, survivors are at an increased risk of developing bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and substance use disorder. There are, however, ways to overcome the trauma,

Survivors are encouraged to talk to a reliable person about the incident, to help rebuild a sense of trust and safety. They should also find a support system, such as an online or in-person support group for survivors. In addition, many survivors benefit from working with a mental health professional. The mental health professional should be trained to deal with trauma and experienced at working with trauma survivors. A trauma-trained therapist will not ask the person to talk about the details or relive the trauma in an overwhelming way. 

If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault and is dealing with any behavioral health issues as a result, remember: You are not alone.

Center for Emotional Health provides behavioral health services to patients ages 4 and up at our more than 40 offices in North Carolina and Florida.

Leave a Reply