How to Prevent Sexual Violence
Sexual violence is a crime that affects many people in society. It can be physically and emotionally traumatic for the victim-survivor, as well as impacting family members, friends and co-workers. It can also have serious consequences on an individual’s health, including increased risk of infection and long-term psychological problems like post traumatic stress disorder. In addition, survivors can face financial impacts such as medical and insurance costs, time off work and lost earnings.
Survivors may have difficulty concentrating or sleeping due to nightmares, flashbacks or thoughts of the attack. They can also experience feelings of shame or guilt for being a victim. These are normal responses and can be a part of the healing process. Survivors often struggle to communicate their experiences with others and might find it difficult to trust strangers. They might develop a heightened sense of suspicion or paranoia, particularly about the appearance, actions and smells of certain people such as their assailants. They might find themselves avoiding places or activities they used to enjoy as a result of their fear.
Many survivors will report their assault to the police. This can be a very difficult decision to make, especially for younger people who may not understand the importance of reporting. It is a good idea to talk to someone first, for example a friend or a hotline service before making the decision to call. Some people may worry that their attacker will find out about the call. In this case it is important to make the call from a place where the phone number will not appear on your bill such as a public phone.
Some survivors may feel that they should have done something to prevent the attack. They might believe that if they had said no or tried to fight the perpetrator then they would not have been raped. However, no rape victim – male or female, gay or straight – should ever be judged for failing to fight off an attack. A person’s body can react in a sexual way during an assault and this is beyond their control.
It is important to recognise that sexual violence can happen to anyone at any time. It is often the result of a combination of factors such as drugs and alcohol, mental illness, domestic violence and a history of trauma or abuse. However, everyone can help to prevent sexual assault or abuse by taking simple steps. For example, if you notice that someone is behaving suspiciously in a public space, intervening by asking them to leave or getting security involved might be all it takes to stop an attack.
Some groups of people are at a higher risk for experiencing sexual violence, for example women and those from racial or ethnic minority groups. This is because they may be more likely to be perceived as a threat or have less power in society. However, all of us can play a role in preventing sexual assault and abuse by being aware of our surroundings, being careful to check the identity of people we let into our homes and by not leaving children or young adults alone at home unsupervised.