The Truth About Sexual Abuse: Prevalence and Risks: Part I

Sexual abuse is a scary concept and a worldwide crime in every society; it happens more frequently than you think.  Sexual abuse is a disturbing and traumatic experience, and it’s essential to understand the facts of sexual abuse.  Sexual abuse also comes in various forms, sexual violence, rape, sexual harassment, child molestation, incest, human trafficking, and sexual assault.  Any sexual behavior, physical and nonphysical, is inflicted upon a woman, man, or child without their consent.  The people who perform sexual abuse sometimes use intimidation, manipulation, or persuasion in a charismatic method.  More frequently, the attacker will use force, causing physical harm, particularly during a rape or threatening the victim’s life.  The manipulation tactic occurs when the victim does not perceive the sexual acts as harmful because of their age, cognitive and physical disabilities, mental health illnesses, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  The abuse can be secretive between the attacker and the victim, especially with children.  More so than not, sexual violence happens by someone the victim knows.  Sexual abuse is not about love; it is about power and control.  Regardless of the form, it does not discredit the trauma it will have on the person victimized.

Let’s first understand the many forms, but not limited to, of sexual abuse and meanings.  

  • Child sexual abuse/molestation is either physical or visual engagement between an adult, teenager, or child that results in pleasure and sexual stimulation for the adult offender.  
  • Rape is the physical or attempted domination performing oral, vaginal, or anal penetration by an object or body part without consent. The victim may know the offender casually, intimately, or not at all.  
  • Unwanted exposure or voyeurism – being exposed to people naked or watching people performing sexual acts, whether in person or online.  Sometimes the perpetrator gets pleasure of masturbating in front of the victim.  
  • Prostitution or human trafficking – an unlawful act of transporting people for sexual exploitation to profit from their work, bargaining, and service. 
  • Unconsented domination – the forceful or manipulation to touch or do painful and degrading sexual acts.  
  • Unconsented sexual photography or videography – publishing sexual acts to degrade, threaten or shame a victim (pornography.)
  • Date rape – taking advantage of someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol or administering a “date rape” drug unknowingly to the victim who is unlikely to give consent. 
  • Sexual harassment is unwanted or unwelcome sexual behavior or pressure that humiliates, embarrasses, or intimidates vulnerable people.  Harassment can be verbal, non-verbal, physical, or visual (gestures of suggestive sexual behaviors).  Statistics show this often happens in a workplace from a peer or supervisor.  
  • Incest – sexual abuse from a family member. 

You would be surprised that most sexual abuse occurs by someone the victim knows, like a caregiver, family member, classmates, coworkers, upper management, friends, healthcare providers, religious leaders, partners, teachers, and coaches.  In the last decade, sexual assault has been on the rise by a rate of 2.9% annually.  Accredited sources like RAINN, Department of Justice, US Center for Disease Control, Women’s Center Youth and Family Services, New York Times, MSN, and others report appalling sexual abuse statistics in America.

  • 82% of children sexual assault victims are females
  • 90% of adult rape victims are females
  • 5% of sexual assault reports are false
  • 1 of 6 American women and 1 out of 33 American males was abused with attempted or concluded rape as a child or adult.  
  • 2019 – 652,676 women were raped (excluding non-rape sexual assaults)
  • 21.4% of American males are victims of sexual violence
  • One-quarter of male victims of sexual violence occurred before ten years old
  • 20,000 individuals reported sexual abuse in the military in 2019
  • People with disabilities are twice at risk of becoming victims, commonly occurring in a healthcare facility, home care, hospital, or individual provider.    
  • 1 in 3 transgender people experience sexual abuse
  • Rape or attempted rape happens every 5 minutes in the country.

Individuals victimized by sexual abuse can be of any gender or age.  However, teenagers and children are at the uppermost risk. It impacts a person’s employment, education, social functioning, family dynamics, income, home life, and the most negatively affected impact of the trauma is their mental health.  

Have you ever thought about who is at risk?  Ever think if you can be an offender’s prey? Oppression is the root of this evil.  The offender targets individuals who may appear to have less powerful, vulnerable, weak, defenseless, and look like the “fantasy” person that the offender has sexual thoughts about.  How can you stay safe and protect yourself and others? Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network shares an in-depth look at safety and prevention.  Here are a few quick tips.

  • Educate yourself on the true meaning of consent.  It is an agreement between both parties to engage in sexual acts, verbally and clearly. Respect each other’s boundaries.
  • Learn how to respond if someone is pressuring you.  
  • Plan safely.  Think of ways to stay safe, whom you surround yourself with, environment, time of day – anything that can reduce the risk of being attacked. 
  • Safety traveling tips
  • Appropriate alcohol consumption
  • Abstinence of drug use
  • Online dating safety guidelines
  • Safe web browsing and social media usage
  • Mindful of bystanders

Don’t turn a blind eye; if you know someone who is suffering or has from sexual violence, there are ways you can help.  Listen without judgment and believe in the sufferer unconditionally.  Be patient; it isn’t something that the victim can easily speak.  Continuously help your loved one regain control of their life. Do not tell them what to do but allow them to make their own decisions.  Provide them with outside resources.  Reenforce it is not their fault.  Respect their need for privacy.  The victim needs the time and space to walk through the trauma and process the vents leading a successful healing journey.  The journey of healing is a process.  It starts with understanding the emotions.  Caroline Brown, LMSW, Senior Associate Therapist at Gateway to Solutions, shares her expertise in her blog “What Does it Mean to Process Your Feelings.”

Sexual abuse inevitably has a negative effect on mental and physical health. Many have repressed the trauma out of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and humiliation.  It is crucial to begin the healing process or encourage a loved one to seek professional help.  The effects are detrimental to the mind and body.  One can contract sexually transmitted diseases, become pregnant, trauma to the body, and substance abuse.  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and flashbacks are the most common mental health disorders.  Also, victims are more at risk to engage in self-harm, substance abuse, suffer from panic attacks, eating disorders, suicide or suicidal ideations, dissociation, sleep disturbances, or disorders.  We understand that your safety and privacy are imperative.  We strongly encourage those who have not sought help to find a trusted resource to begin their healing journey.  Today, there are many support groups, emergency hotlines, crisis centers, non-profit organizations, and private mental health providers and facilities to give a safe and trusted place one may need to heal.  Gateway to Solution’s clinicians has helped many sexual abuse victims privately and safely work through the process with a humanistic approach.  Whether you seek out a professional individual mental health provider or contact an emergency helpline, remember, there is help, and it is time for you to take your life back.  

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