Consequences of Sexual Abuse

Often when we hear the phrase sexual abuse, we might imagine that the person committing such crimes to be a stranger or person unknown to us. However, statistics show otherwise.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the federal government (CDC) in the United States, about 7.8 million women have been raped by their partner at some point in their lives, and over 200,000 women are raped by their partners each year. On the other hand, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry maintains that a total of 80,000 cases of child sexual abuse are reported each year, the number of unreported cases is even greater, and most often the perpetrators of these acts are known by the victims.

There are several forms of sexual abuse: 1) when there is no consent and a person is forced to have sex (i.e. rape), 2) unwanted physical contact, whether adult or minor (e.g., fondling), 3) unwanted exposure of the genitals (e.g., exhibitionism) or the invasion of someone’s privacy, such as through voyeurism, 4) requiring or exposing a child to pornography, 5) making sexual comments to a child, or even to an adult when s/he rejects such comments, and 6) incest.

Sexual abuse, whether by rape or sexual harassment, can prompt a person seek the help or services of a mental health professional. Many people can be treated for many years before revealing that they were abused. Fear, the absence of family support, and a lack of trust in the system may be reasons why a person fails to report sexual abuse, making the act a secret.

A rape can be devastating both physically and psychologically. The emotional damage may remain with the victim for a long time. Many do not remember exactly what happened, and others recall memories only vaguely. Some who have faced this experience feel bad and/or hopeless, are unable to sleep, have nightmares, experience flashbacks, and can be easily upset, lonely, guilty, and sad. These individuals may also show symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a disease, and a person who is experiencing it usually needs treatment to facilitate recovery. In addition, children with PTSD suffer higher rates of school difficulties, alcohol and drug abuse, depression, sleep disorders, and even suicidal thoughts.

Seek help if you or someone you know has been sexually abused and is having disturbing thoughts about the incident.

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