The Devastation of Sexual Assault
Many know of the devastating effect sexual assault has on its victims. But living in a community where you never hear of rape occurring, makes one think, perhaps it never happens in this community.
The national statistics belie that assumption. Sexual assault in one form or another, occurs every 45 minutes. This includes assault to both males and females, although it happens to females more often than to males. According to the US Department of Justice, one out of every 7 women currently in college has been raped and 9 out of 10 women never tell anyone. One in 10 men is assaulted in his lifetime and of those, one in seven will have been assaulted before the age of 18. Many times the victim will know perpetrator. Children assaulted before the age of 8 years old are 7 times more likely to be re-victimized as adults. One in 15 victims becomes pregnant as a result of being assaulted. 61% of victims are females under the age of 18. Those living in a rural area are 3% less likely to be victims of rape than their sisters living in urban and suburban communities. The other 39% include spousal rape, stranger rape or casual acquaintance rape.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, reports that a rape occurs every 60 minutes in Texas. Using their numbers for Lamar County, Paris and Reno for the years 2006 through 2009, 47 rapes were reported. Using the national statistics statement of 9 out of 10 women never reporting their rape, the cumulative number of rapes for those years would be 423 for our area.
So what is it that prevents women and men from reporting their victimization to the authorities or to immediate family members? This is not an easy question to answer because there are many reasons. Where adult women are concerned, one reason is fear of people knowing this has happened to them. Once the violation has become a realization, shame and guilt sets in. A victim of sexual assault is in a very emotionally fragile state. She/he immediately feels everyone knows what has happened and he/she believes she somehow “asked for it.” This adds to the sense of shame and humiliation. Another reason for not reporting the assault is fear of reprisal.
A rape victim will go through the same set of emotions one goes through when a loved one dies: denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Most often the victim will move back and forth between anger and depression and quite often remaining stuck there without professional intervention, ie. Therapy. A person experiencing rape is in fear of death and at the very least, severe bodily harm throughout the attack. Later this fear is expressed in depression due to the recurring nightmares, flashbacks of the assault, shame and guilt, and the person asking what they did that caused this to happen to them. Not being able to reconcile the fact that this was a violent crime against them, one of power and control. The whole purpose for sexual assault is to diminish, demean, abase, and demoralize a person so the perpetrator can feel powerful. Sexual assault is a violent act expressed through sexual activity, not sexual desire.
For the victim of sexual assault, some may become “frigid” and unable to enjoy the normal pleasure of consenting sexual activity for many months or even years. Often therapeutic intervention is not a one-time event. In fact, intervention may be required at different developmental stages. This generally includes the time of the onset of menses in cases of childhood sexual assault, again in mid teens and prior to marriage, and again after marriage, and when sexual dysfunction occurs. At each stage of development the person is dealing with a different set of issues related to the past assault. The ability to engage in the emotional and sexual intimacy of a loving relationship may be threatened, because the idea of engaging in sex means a degrading and violent act, instead of a loving sharing enjoyable act. Is it any wonder the end result is confusion?
At the beginning of this article, I stated that sexual assault has devastating and lasting effects for the victim. I have discussed a few, but certainly not all. If this has happened to you, I hope you will find a therapist and begin to explore your thoughts and feelings about what you are experiencing. It is the best way for the healing to begin.
Patricia Palmeri, MA, LPC