Trauma Associated With Sexual Assault

Trauma. We read about it in newspapers, we hear about it on television, we see the hashtags on social media. The American Psychological Association defines trauma as an “emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” As can be seen with this definition, there are multiple types of experiences that can be defined as trauma. More recently, we’ve heard the term trauma utilized by women and men who are no longer afraid to speak out. These people, though, aren’t speaking out about car accidents or natural disasters, they are speaking out about their experience with sexual assault.

Although sexual assault is not included as part of this definition, many who have experienced  such incidents perceive these as such and these should be valued as equally. Trauma is often based on how someone perceives an experience. Given this, it is important to recognize the language used to describe trauma as it relates to sexual assault.The nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN, defines sexual assault as, “sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim.” This may be considered an umbrella term as it covers a wide range of behavior and can be vague in interpretation. So, then, what contact or behavior can we consider sexual assault? Sexual assault is attempted rape, fondling or unwanted touching, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts like oral sex, and penetration of the victim’s body which is known as rape.

Statistics show that one in six women have been victims of attempted rape or rape. One in thirty three men have been victims of attempted rape or rape. Sixty-three thousand children between 2009-2013 were victims of sexual abuse. Every 98 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted. We have seen these staggering statistics come to light in recent months. With women like, Tarana Burke creator of the #METOO movement, who took social media by storm and started a conversation where it is safe to speak out. TIME Magazine’s highlight of women and men who have spoken out against sexual assault and their perpetrators. Efforts likes these have garnered people courage to speak out against those in power who abused them.

Although, the tides in our country and the world are changing and women and men are riding those waves to create a new conversation that empowers victims to become their own hero, our efforts must expand to consider the emotional impact these experiences have on their victims. As seen in the above definition of sexual assault, we typically equate force to the use of physical force. However, force isn’t always physical. It may be manipulative or take the form of a threat to force compliance. This kind of force is emotional. It expands beyond the physical assault to an assault of our psychological well-being. This type of assault may the worse type of all.

This type of emotional impact can result in the form of a behavioral health diagnosis known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is defined as a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. People with PTSD can suffer from nightmares, flashbacks, loss of appetite, and intrusive thoughts. They may experience feelings of guilt and self-blame. They are often hyper vigilant to their surrounding and may avoid people, places, and activities that remind them of the event. This further can result in difficulty with sleep and concentration.

At Cognitive Behavior Institute we are not only joining the conversation about sexual assault, but we are leading a campaign around these efforts to support our community in dealing with the emotional impact of such trauma. Along with providing evidence-based treatment to combat PTSD, we are furthering these efforts by training therapist in the Pittsburgh area in effective trauma therapy techniques to increase access to this type of treatment. We are dedicated to helping and empowering survivors and loved ones of survivors. For more information about our treatment, or if you are a survivor or want to join our campaign, please visit our website at www.papsychotherapy.org. We have offices in Cranberry Township, Monroeville and Mt. Lebanan, PA.  In addition, we offer distance counseling.  Your experiences are valid, you are important, you are loved, and you are not alone.

Originally posted on papsychotherapy.org February 2018

Photo Copyright: lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo

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