A Guide to Sexual Assault

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, sexual assault includes any sexual activity for which a person does not give consent.

Sexual assault can involve physical acts like rape or unwelcome groping, but it can also include non-physical activities like flashing the genitals.

 According to the Office on Women's Health, one-third of women in the United States have suffered sexual assault, while a quarter of men have been victims, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Types of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault can take many forms, including:

  • Whether it's vaginal, oral, or anal rape, it's all wrong.
  • When a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and unable to consent to sexual conduct
  • During sex, forcing a person to do something he or she does not want to do.
  • Taking images or videos of a person during sexual intercourse without their consent
  • Forcing a person to engage in sexual activities in exchange for money is a form of coercion.
  • Unwelcomed contact

Sexual Assault Risk Factors

While some variables can help to prevent sexual assault, others can make someone more susceptible to becoming a victim of sexual violence.

A study published in the medical journal PLOS ONE in 2017 examined the factors that contribute to an increased risk of sexual assault and discovered risk factors:

  • Female gender
  • Not adhering to gender stereotypes
  • Monetary difficulties
  • Being incapacitated by drugs or alcohol
  • Not identifying as heterosexual
  • Involvement in a sorority or fraternity
  • Indulge in binge drinking
  • History of sexual assault
  • Having numerous casual sexual partners instead of being in a monogamous relationship

A sexual assault and the mental health problems that follow sexual violence can be avoided by exercising caution and being aware of risk factors. It is critical to get help if you have been a victim of sexual assault and to remember that the occurrence was not your fault.

Sexual Assault Prevention

Treatment is available for those who have been sexually assaulted, but prevention is also possible.

Personal Safety

The Office on Women's Health advises women to take precautions to keep themselves safe in social situations. These steps can include the following:

  • Limiting the amount of alcohol consumed
  • Keeping a watch on your drink to avoid drugs being added
  • Meeting dates in public locations
  • Going out with friends in groups
  • Making a pact with mates to keep an eye out for each other
  • Finding a phone app that can notify friends or the police if you are in danger is a must
  • Creating a code word to communicate with friends or family if you are in danger and require assistance
  • If you don't feel comfortable in a scenario, you should leave.

Steps to Take

  1. First and foremost, trust your friend or family members when they confide in you. Don't hold them responsible for the sexual assault, and don't encourage them to speak forward. It's preferable to take it slowly and let them lead the way. Concentrate on their needs, and keep in mind that everyone's healing process is different.
  2. Take the necessary precautions to secure and defend his or her safety.
  3. Seek medical help, but remember that your friend or loved one has the last say on whether or not medical help is required. It's critical for them to reclaim control of their bodies.
  4. Go over their alternatives with them and find out what they want to do next. Contacting an advocate and/or the police may or may not be included. For survivors of sexual assault, reporting a crime can be a tough, protracted, and unpleasant procedure. Although it is not appropriate for everyone, a professional advocate can assist you in navigating your friend's or loved one's options.
  5. Ascertain that they receive the professional treatment and support that they may require. Counselling can be quite beneficial in supporting your friend or loved one, as well as yourself, in the healing process after a sexual assault.

Healing from sexual assault

Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. Hearing that a friend or loved one has been a victim of sexual assault can be very painful and stressful. It's difficult to know how to react or what to say at moments like this. Helping your friend or loved one feel safe and supported is the most important thing you can do. Faculty, staff, and midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy have a variety of options to help them deal with the aftermath of a sexual assault. When it comes to sexual assault, everyone reacts differently. Fear, anguish, shame, rage, perplexity, apathy, and guilt are all common reactions. It's critical that your friend or loved one is allowed to feel and process these emotions without fear of them being disregarded or invalidated.

Various types of therapy, such as cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, stress inoculation training, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing may be useful in treating sexual assault victims, according to research.

Counselling Services

Anyone seeking treatment for sexual assault can go to a local community mental health facility for information and to complete the intake procedure.

Treatment programs must be comprehensive and offer therapies to address both the trauma of the sexual assault and any co-occurring illnesses, such as substance use disorders.

Victims of sexual assault can talk about their experiences, analyse their feelings, and heal from the trauma of the assault through treatment.

While continued counselling services are likely to be needed to overcome trauma, the most common immediate treatment for sexual assault is to contact law authorities and seek treatment at a local hospital, where professionals may assess and treat any injuries acquired during the assault. Sexual assault is illegal, and law enforcement officers can investigate to see if a crime has been committed.

Things to consider

  • Listen carefully and try to comprehend. Make sure they know how much you care for them and how much you are willing to help them.
  • Assist them in distinguishing between "if only" and "guilt.". Survivors frequently blame themselves for what had occurred. Assure them that it was not their fault and that the criminal is the only one to blame.
  • If they didn't inform you right away, pay attention to their reasoning. They may have been afraid of your reaction, embarrassed or ashamed, or tried to protect you. It's fairly usual for survivors to hold off on telling their loved ones.
  • Give the surviving command. This means allowing them to speak for themselves until they expressly request that you do so.

Sexual assault is a crime that deprives a person of their authority. It may make them feel encroached upon, altered, or out of control. In order to reclaim control over their lives, survivors must be able to make their own decisions.

Things to avoid

  • Don't chastise them for where they were, for not resisting more, and so forth. The perpetrator is the only one who is accountable for the sexual assault. The right to be free of threat, harassment, or attack is a fundamental human right. Whatever they did to stay alive was the correct thing to do.
  • Don't oversimplify what happened by telling them it wasn't so horrible or that they should just forget about it. Allow them to express themselves completely.
  • Don't feel sorry for the abuser. Your friend or loved one requires your undivided attention.
  • Don't point the finger at your loved one, spouse or partner, or at yourself. As much as possible, avoid asking "why" queries because they often suggest blame.

During times of crisis, violence against women continues to be a topic of concern as it influences global public health and women's health

  • Violence against women is quite pervasive. The most reoccurring type of violence is intimate relationship violence. During their lifetime, one in every three women globally has experienced physical and/or sexual assault by an intimate partner or sexual violence by any offender. Majority of such incidences are intimate relationship violence.
  • Violence against women increases during all types of emergencies, including epidemics. Women over the age of 50 and women with impairments are more likely to face increased hazards and requirements. Women who are displaced, refugees, or living in combat zones are particularly vulnerable.
  • Despite the scarcity of statistics, reports from China, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other nations indicate a rise in domestic violence instances since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

How COVID-19 has impacted women

  • Stress, disruption of social and protective networks, and reduced access to resources can all increase women's risk of violence.
  • As distancing measures are adopted and people are encouraged to stay at home, the chance of intimate partner violence is projected to grow. For example:

As family members spend more time in close contact and families struggle with greater stress and probable economic or employment losses, the probability that women in abusive relationships and their children may be exposed to violence increases considerably.

Women may have fewer interactions with family and friends who can offer support and protection against assault.

During this epidemic, women bore the burden of extra care work. School closures intensify this strain and add to their stress.

Disruptions to livelihoods and the capacity to make a living, notably for women (many of whom are informal wage earners), would reduce access to essential necessities and services, raising stress on families and perhaps exacerbating tensions and violence. Women may be more vulnerable to economic exploitation when resources grow scarcer.

What can be done during this pandemic to combat violence against women?

Despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed a significant strain on health systems, particularly frontline health professionals, there are certain things that can be done to assist alleviate the impact of violence on women.

Governments and policy makers - Essential services to combat violence against women must be included in COVID-19 readiness and response plans, funded, and identified methods to make them available in the context of physical distancing measures.

Health facilities – Health facilities should develop referral links, counselling services and other resources in order to promote the well-being of survivors.

Health care providers - Must be aware of the dangers and health repercussions of violence against women. They can assist women who come forward by providing first-line assistance and medical care. Listening empathetically and without judgement, enquiring about needs and concerns, validating survivors' experiences and feelings, boosting safety, and linking survivors to support resources are all examples of first-line help. The use of mHealth and telemedicine in safely addressing violence against women must be investigated as soon as possible.

Women can minimize risk of violence by doing the following things:

Reach out to helpful, understanding relatives and friends who can provide practical assistance (e.g., food, child care) as well as support in dealing with stress.

Women find it helpful to share their grief with close family members and friends. They should be aware that if the violence worsens then they can receive support from a local program designed for survivors.

Devise a safety plan for themselves and their children's protection in the event that the violence escalates. This includes keeping contact information of neighbours, friends, and family members whom you can call or visit for assistance; having accessible important documents, money, and a few personal items to take with you if you need to leave immediately; and planning how you might leave the house and seek assistance (e.g. transport, location).

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