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  • Althea Ocomen

Impacts Of Sexual Assault & Abuse On Mental Health

WHAT IS SEXUAL ABUSE?

Sexual abuse is any form of sexual violence, including rape, child molestation, incest, and similar forms of non-consensual sexual contact. Most sexual abuse experts agree sexual abuse is never only about sex. Instead, it is often an attempt to gain power over others.


Immediate crisis assistance after sexual assault can prove valuable and even save lives. Therapy can also be helpful for those who experienced sexual abuse in the past. Some therapists specialize in addressing the trauma of sexual assault. Long-term assistance may be beneficial to some survivors of sexual abuse.


WHAT IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT?

Sexual harassment often falls under the umbrella of sexual assault. While the definitions of both sexual assault and sexual harassment include non-consensual sexual contact, there are some distinct differences. The term “sexual harassment” is often used in a legal context. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment includes:

  • Unwanted sexual advances or contact

  • Harassing a person on the basis of their sex

  • Making offensive comments or jokes about a particular sex

  • The pressure to go on a date or perform sexual favors


MALE VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND ABUSE

Men who experience sexual assault can face severe stigma. U.S. culture promotes a stereotype that men always want sex. Many people believe men cannot possibly be victims of rape. When men report sexual assault, they often face doubt and ridicule. Others may blame the abuse on the man’s “weakness” or alleged homosexuality. Victim-blaming is especially likely when a man accuses a woman of sexual abuse. Due to stigma, male survivors can be reluctant to label their experiences as rape or abuse. Some may not mention the event at all. However, a reluctance to disclose can prevent men from getting treatment. Without professional help, some men resort to substance abuse or self-harm to cope with trauma.


SEXUAL ASSAULT AND ABUSE IN THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY

Sexual crimes in the LGBTQ+ community are often not reported. Survivors may fear revealing their gender identity or sexual orientation to others. They may not trust the legal system to protect them. Survivors could also fear inciting further violence. Like other survivors, LGBTQ+ people often encounter stigma after they report sexual violence. Discrimination in the health care system may prevent survivors from getting care. Friends and family may believe stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people and blame the victim. In cases of domestic violence, members of the local LGBTQ+ community may refuse to believe the survivor or hold the offender accountable.


MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES RESULTING FROM SEXUAL ASSAULT

After a sexual assault, survivors may feel their bodies are not really their own. Survivors often report feelings such as shame, terror, and guilt. Many blame themselves for the assault. Due to the trauma and negative emotions linked to sexual abuse, survivors may be at risk for mental health conditions. Survivors of sexual abuse may develop:

  • Depression: The loss of bodily autonomy is often difficult to cope with. It can create feelings of hopelessness or despair. It may also reduce one’s sense of self-worth. Depressive feelings may be mild and fleeting, or they can be intense and long-lasting.

  • Anxiety: The loss of bodily autonomy can also cause severe anxiety. Survivors may fear the attack could happen again. Some may experience panic attacks. Others may develop agoraphobia and become afraid to leave their homes. In some cases, a survivor may develop a chronic fear of the type of person who harmed them. Someone who was raped by a tall, fair-haired man with blue eyes may instinctively dislike, mistrust, or fear all men who match that description.

  • Posttraumatic stress (PTSD): Someone who survived sexual assault may experience intense memories of the abuse. In some cases, flashbacks may be so disruptive they cause a survivor to lose track of surroundings. A person may also develop a related condition called complex posttraumatic stress (C-PTSD). C-PTSD yields a chronic fear of abandonment in addition to symptoms of traditional PTSD. Some people with C-PTSD also experience personality disruptions.

  • Personality disruptions: Sexual abuse can sometimes result in personality disruptions such as borderline personality. The behavior linked with personality disruptions could actually be an adaption to abuse. For instance, a characteristic of borderline personality is a fear of abandonment. That fear might not be adaptive in adulthood. Yet avoiding abandonment might have protected someone from sexual abuse as a child.

  • Attachment issues: Survivors may find it challenging to form healthy attachments with others. This is especially true among children who have been abused. Adults who were abused as children may have insecure attachment patterns. They could struggle with intimacy or be too eager to form close attachments.

  • Addiction: Research suggests abuse survivors are 26 times more likely to use drugs. Drugs and alcohol can help numb the pain of abuse. Yet substance abuse often leads to the development of different concerns.


Sexual abuse does not only leave psychological scars. It can also have long-lasting health consequences. A person who is assaulted may sustain bruises and cuts. They could also have more severe injuries such as knife wounds, broken bones, and damaged genitals. Others may develop chronic pain without an obvious physical cause. Some survivors experience sexual dysfunction and fertility issues. Others may develop sexually transmitted infections. Contrary to myth, it is possible for a sexual assault to result in pregnancy. In cases where a child becomes pregnant, giving birth may be physically dangerous.




 

References:

https://www.banyanmentalhealth.com/2019/10/02/psychological-effects-of-sexual-assault/

https://www.karger.com/Article/PDF/342721

https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/sexual-abuse


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