Sexual Violence – A Pervasive Problem in Our Community
Sexual violence is a pervasive problem in our community that affects people of all ages, races and socioeconomic status. It can take many forms including sexual harassment, unwanted or uninvited touching, and sexual assault or rape. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted and when it does happen, the impact can be life-long. It can lead to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, isolation, and self-blame. It can also cause physical problems like sexually transmitted diseases and injuries. It can have economic impacts too like medical bills, time off work, and loss of income. It can also have a negative effect on relationships with friends, family members and coworkers. As a society, we need to change how we respond to sexual violence and harassment and begin changing the culture of acceptance around it.
Victims of sexual violence are often confused about what happened to them and don’t know what kind of help they need. They may not feel comfortable talking about it with anyone so they stay isolated and alone. Some survivors experience a lot of anger, fear and guilt while others are more depressed or anxious. They may have nightmares, flashbacks, or mood swings and feel like they can’t trust people in their lives anymore. It is important to remember that everyone reacts differently and heals at their own pace.
There are different kinds of sexual violence but the most common is rape and assault. It can be by a stranger or someone that the victim knows and often times they are forced into sexual activity even when they don’t want to do it. Perpetrators may use threats, manipulation and other forms of power to get what they want.
It is important to understand that rape and other sexual assault are crimes and victims are able to report them. There are different levels of sexual violence and they are affected by a variety of factors including the individual level, relationship level and community/societal level. Individual level- risk factors include the use of alcohol and drugs, attitudes and beliefs that promote sexual violence, impulsive behaviors, hostility towards women, and childhood experiences of abuse and witnessing family violence.
Relationship level- factors that increase the likelihood of a person to perpetrate sexual violence include their relationships with friends, acquaintances and intimate partners. These include a pattern of aggressive behavior or abusiveness, controlling and manipulative behaviors and a lack of trust.
Societal/community level- factors that contribute to the occurrence of sexual violence and harassment include laws and norms that reinforce inequality between men and women, racial prejudice, gang violence, and social pressures to commit violent acts.
There are many ways that sexual violence and assault can be prevented. Primary prevention includes education and awareness programs to raise awareness of the issues, screenings to identify risk factors for sexual violence and prevention strategies such as bystander intervention. It is vital for individuals to learn the warning signs so they can intervene and help when someone is in danger.