April 12th, 2023
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), which is observed as such to inform the public that sexual violence is a human right, social justice, and public health issue. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) states that every 68 seconds a person living in the United States is sexually assaulted.
Furthermore, RAINN reported that every 9 minutes that victim is a child. These are disturbing statistics that can cause physical- and mental health issues. Therefore, April is used as a month to educate the public about what sexual violence is, support survivors, and how to prevent it.
Sexual violence is any unwanted sexual contact, this includes words and actions carried out without another person's consent. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), "Consent must be freely given and informed, and a person can change their mind at any time. Consent is more than a yes or no. It is a dialogue about desires, needs, and levels of comfort with different sexual interactions."
On top of that, RAINN and Mental Health America note that sexual assault includes:
It does not matter what kind of relationship you have with someone, what kind of clothes the victim is wearing, or whether they chose to consume alcohol or use drugs; assaulting an individual is a choice and it is wrong. This violent and illegal choice impacts the victim, their loved ones, communities, and society which is why sexual assault awareness is so important.
Sexual assault can increase the risk of developing depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders, eating disorders, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, and panic attacks. More specific symptoms of short- and long-term effects on mental health are the following:
Physical effects of sexual violence that can affect a survivor's mental health are sexually transmitted infections (STI) and pregnancy.
Additionally, if a victim's support system has an adverse reaction to the assault this can worsen the impact of sexual violence on their mental health. Therefore, using health services to address sexual assault and its effects can be beneficial.
Sexual assault often goes unreported because when victims report being sexually assaulted, they are often not believed or they are judged and blamed. Therefore, having to re-tell your experience over and over again can be extremely hard and traumatizing. As previously stated, negative reactions are associated with worse mental health outcomes. The stigma surrounding sexual assault is dangerous.
Being aware that sexual assault is something that causes traumatic stress and other mental health disorders is how society can create room for more treatment options and empathetic conversations. This awareness is brought about by proper education and prevention. This also gives some control back to the survivor, which is important after a situation where control is taken away.
Having options and being in control can be a way to help a victim move forward, but it is also why it is important not to push them to report their assault to the police or anybody else they are not comfortable with.
Nonetheless, if you decide you want to seek medical attention or report your assault, Planned Parenthood listed these possible steps to follow:
Below is a list of various resources for sexual assault victims.
This April, pass this article along to someone in your community to raise awareness and help educate your peers about sexual assault.
RAINN - “Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics”
Mental Health America (MHA) - “Sexual Assault and Mental Health”
Planned Parenthood - “What should I do if I or someone I know was sexually assaulted?”
NSVRC - "About Sexual Assault"
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