Coping with Sexual Harassment and Assault (2)

Sexual assault cuts across gender and racial boundaries causing distress to both sufferers and their loved ones. When sexual assault occurs, it often turns the life of the victim upside down as they struggle to deal with a raft of mixed emotions.

Unfortunately, it is hard to prepare yourself for many of life’s more difficult challenges, but having knowledge about what happens on a psychological basis after an assault and ways to deal with the aftermath can go a long way to helping ourselves and others deal with this all-too-common crime.

Statistics show that, for females, the highest rate of sexual assault is reported by females aged 10-14 years, although babies as young as one month old and the elderly (80+) are also common targets. Females consistently record higher rates of sexual assault than males irrespective of age. However, males are also targets right across the age spectrum, from birth onwards, with the highest rate occurring in the under 15 group.

Of course, the available statistics represent the tip of the iceberg as the majority of cases of sexual assault go unreported. Case workers estimate that of the women who access counseling for sexual assault, less than half will go on to report the matter and follow up through the court system. An even larger proportion does not access counseling; hence the true number of sexual assault cases goes largely unrecorded.

Part of the reason why help in the form of counseling is not always accessed can be better understood by looking at what happens to a women when she is sexually assaulted. In many ways, the act of sexual assault mimics any trauma in our lives, particularly death. The victim of an assault goes through many of the same phases that a person goes through when hearing of the death of a loved one.

Initially, there may be denial that the assault has happened. This is not to say that the sufferer believes that the event has not taken place (although in rare cases, a psychotic break may occur in which the event is repressed) but merely that the severity of the attack is minimized by the victim in order to cope better. Ritualized washing may be present, in which the victim may take repeated showers and baths in an attempt to cleanse themselves of the essence of the perpetrator. Inappropriate anger and rage, especially directed at close family and friends, is also common, as is depression, anxiety, guilt, and an exaggerated startle response.

In coming blogs, we will look at the important of talking and the role of counseling.

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