Sexual Abuse and Assault
Estimates of sexual assault are difficult to ascertain since many do not get reported, and different sources report different rates. However, it is estimated that between 15% to 20% of women will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. Furthermore, approximately half of these women are sexually assaulted by someone that they were dating at the time. Additionally, approximately 10% of sexual assault victims are male.
Sexual assault is typically thought of as forced sex by which a stranger pulls the woman into an alley, rips off her clothes, and forcibly rapes her. However, this is the minority of sexual assaults. Sexual assault entails any instance of sex in which you do not provide consent. This includes date rape in which a person does not take “No” for an answer and forces sex. It also involves giving a woman a date rape drug to render her unconscious, and therefore unable to resist or consent to sex. Other forms of sexual assault or sexual abuse include someone initiating sex when you are sleep, using guilt or pressuring you into having sex, refusing to use a condom, or removing the condom during sex (i.e., “stealthing”).
Sexual assault is often experienced as a highly traumatic event, and is one of the leading causes of PTSD in women. Victims of sexual assault can frequently experience nightmares or flashbacks of the assault. They might have difficulty engaging in future relationships for fear of being assaulted again. When they do enter another relationship they might have difficulty engaging in sex without reliving painful memories of the assault. The assault can lead to feelings of shame and guilt, with the woman erroneously blaming herself for having allowed the assault to have happened. Sadness and depression often ensue, especially if the woman now sees herself as somehow ‘damaged’ by the assault.
Therapy can help people who have been sexually assaulted in several ways. Therapy can help you recognize that the sexual assault was not your fault. Therapy can help you process through any shame and guilt that you might feel due to the assault. Therapy can help you process through any anxiety that you might experience regarding dating in the future. It can help validate the feelings of sadness and depression associated with the sexual assault. While difficult to engage in, exposure therapy can help reduce the frequency and intensity of nightmares and flashbacks. It is important to understand that therapy will be conducted at a pace that is comfortable for you, and you will not be rushed into talking about things that you are not ready to discuss.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational and informative purposes only, and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment. Only a qualified mental health professional can render a diagnosis and provide adequate treatment for sexual abuse and assault.