The National Network to End Domestic Violence has declared April as Sexual Assault Awareness month.
What is sexual assault? That’s a question with many answers. Sexual violence includes rape, intimate partner violence, incest, child sexual abuse, any unwanted sexual contact, human trafficking, sexual exposure, and even voyeurism. Sexual violence is not limited to any age group and can be experienced by children, teens, adults, and even elders. Anytime someone is forced or intimidated into unwanted sexual activity without consent they experience sexual violence. Anyone who uses fear, the influence of alcohol or drugs, or takes advantage of age, illness, or disability is perpetrating sexual violence.
How prevalent is sexual violence? One in six boys and one in four girls will experience a sexual assault before the age 18 (Dube et al., 2005). What does that mean? In a classroom of 30 second graders 7 girls and 5 boys will experience some type of sexual violence. Those numbers are staggering. A 2010 survey on sexual violence states that one in five women and one in seventy-one men will be raped in their lifetime. Over 42% of women who reported rape said it occurred before their 18th birthday. In spite of these horrific numbers an article published in 2004 in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence official statistics show that rape occurs far more extensively than is reported and most rapists are never caught.(Carr et al., 2004).
With statistics like these what can be done to make a change? As parents it is crucial to teach children about appropriate behavior and boundaries. Discuss healthy sexual development and be a good example for them. It does no good to teach your child about good relationships and the importance of sexual responsibility if you are not exhibiting the proper behavior yourself. Watch for changes in behavior that may indicate something is wrong. Keep your eyes and your mind open for inappropriate behavior. Don’t brush your feelings away; parents have good instincts. If you think something is going on you are probably right. Don’t be judgmental when speaking to your child. We have all made mistakes, we have all found ourselves in situations beyond our control. If you suspect your child or another child is being sexually abused know how to make a report. When you ignore the crime you are saying it’s okay.
Listen and believe when you are told of any type of inappropriate behavior. Do not overreact or criticize either the victim or the perpetrator.
Some warning signs:
- Sudden changes in behavior or mood. (Unexplained anger, crying, fear.)
- Changes in social behavior. (Stays home, less interaction with friends, less involvement in activities).)
- Drop in grades at school.
- Less attention to appearance. (Sloppy clothes, dirty or ungroomed hair/body.)
- Suddenly secretive. (Locked bedroom door, whispering on the phone, hesitant to talk.)
Everyone will react differently to trauma. Some may want to immediately talk about what happened and will reach out for assistance. There are others who may wait years before opening up about what happened. Then there are those who are never able to talk about their experiences. If someone confides their experience to you be aware of how brave they are to disclose and be cautious and considerate in your response. If a child or teen reveals abuse give them the space and time to tell as much or as little as she is comfortable with. Be prepared they may resist going to authorities but let her know you will support her. Knowing she is believed and will be protected can make all the difference in her reporting and recovery.
ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC):
National Network to End Domestic Violence
Carr, J., & VanDeusen, K. (2004). Risk factors for male sexual aggression on college campuses. Journal of Interpersonal Violence,
19, 279-289. doi:10.1023/B:JOFV.0000042078.55308.4d
Dube, S. R., Anda, R. F., Whit?eld, C.L., Brown, D. L., Felitti, V. J., Dong, M., & Giles, W. H. (2005). Long-term consequences
of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 430–438. doi:10.1016/ j.amepre.2005.01.015