The Hidden Wounds of Sexual Abuse: The Impact on Mental Health and Pathways to Healing

BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|

Sexual abuse is a devastating problem that affects individuals from all walks of life. The trauma of sexual abuse can have profund and long-lasting effects on a person’s mental health, leading to a range of psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That is why it’s important to talk in this short article about the impact of sexual abuse on mental health, the challenges of seeking help and the interventions that can support survivors on their healing journey.

According to Rape Crisis [1] , “sexual assault happens when someone touches another person in a sexual manner without their consent. Or when someone makes another person take part in sexual activity with them without that person’s consent. It includes unwanted kissing and sexual touching.” Psychology Today considers that “sexual abuse is any sexual activity that occurs without consent. Also referred to as sexual assault or sexual violence, it includes unwanted sexual touching, forced oral sex, and rape among other sexual acts. No matter which act occurs, it is not the survivor’s fault that they were assaulted- and help is available to heal from such abuse.

It is important to mention that there are 5 types of sexual abuse [2] :

  1. Verbal: “Verbal sexual abuse is prevalent and can be experienced in social settings, at work, and at home. Crude humor is often given a pass in our culture even though it does real harm, it can be hard to deal with because, we might feel that there is a violation but, be fearful of facing social or relational consequences for speaking up.”
  2. Covert: “This includes being observed, followed, photographed, social media stalking, sexual cyber-harassment.”
  3. Visual: Being exposed to unwanted sexual content visually is sexual abuse. Some examples can include unwanted or uninvited exposure to sexually explicit images, sexting/airdropping, etc.”
  4. Physical: For example, “touching, foundling, physical restraint, cornering, tickling, kissing, excessive cleaning of genitals, enemas, intercourse, sodomy, oral sex, etc.”
  5. Ritualistic: “is sexual abuse blended with some form of spirituality and ritual. In some cases of ritualistic sexual abuse, perpetrators encourage or attempt to justify their actions as an act of penance or worship to the target of their abuse.”

The figures are alarming: “Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 9 minutes, that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only 25 out every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison [3] .” “One of the most shocking facts about sexual assault is that approximately only 5% of sexual assault reports filed have been proven false; 82% of all juvenile sexual assault victims are female; 90% of adult rape are female; 41% of sexual assaults against Native Americans are committed by a stranger; adolescents aged 14-17 were by far the most likely to be sexually victimized, nearly one in six (16.3%) was sexually victimized in the past year”.

On the other hand, Banyan Treatment Centers [4]  mentions some psychological effects of sexual assault: Feelings of shame or guilt, social isolation or withdrawal, problems sleeping, eating disorders, flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of certain places/ things related to the event, anxiety disorders, PTSD and depression and suicidal thoughts or actions. Additionally, they give us important figures about the types of populations that  suffer sexual assault: 9.5% of Asian or Pacific Islander women; 15% of Hispanic women; 19.9% of white women; 28.9% of Native American or Alaskan Native women and 31.8% for multiracial women [5] . In conclusion, sexual abuse can have a profund impact on a person’s mental health, but with the right support and resources, survivors can heal and reclaim their lives. It is up to all of us to work towards creating support for our neighbors, for example, with therapy, support groups or other forms of counseling can be very effective in helping them.  







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