Ending stigma around sexual assault


Sexual assault is a horrific and tragically present reality in our society. The issue took a more prominent place in public discussion during the height of the #MeToo movement last year, often making headlines in the news. However, the media has since drifted from the discussion on sexual assault and moved to other issues that have caught public attention.

But the long and short term impacts that sexual assault has on a victim’s health, mentally, emotionally and physically never go away, even after a victim’s story is done being broadcasted to the world.

When I was told that someone I love was sexually assaulted, a gut wrenching feeling coursed through my whole body and I felt helpless. Helpless because I am not able to take away the pain and trauma that being sexually assaulted has on someone, even after the incident is over and justice is served.

The long-lasting effects sexual assault has on a person never go away. It is something that a person will live with for the rest of their lives. I have seen the lasting consequences of what sexual assault can do to someone and we cannot end conversations on the problem until their is a solution to what we as a society can do for people who feel as though they cannot be helped.

Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to helping with the needs of those living with mental illness and promotes the overall mental health of all Americans, explains that many survivors report flashbacks of their assault, and feelings of shame, isolation, shock, confusion and guilt.

People who were victims of rape or sexual assault are also at an increased risk for developing depression, PTSD and anxiety.

Mental Health America also shows on their website that women in college are three times more likely to be victims of sexual assault and that one in two transgender people are victims of sexual assault.

University College London and staff from King’s College hospital did a study involving 137 girls aged between 13 and 17 who were assaulted between April 2013 and April 2015. The study reported that out of all of the sexual assault victims 80 percent of the girls had a mental health disorder and 55 percent of the girls had at least two disorders.

This research shows the gravity of the risk of someone’s mental health deteriorating after being sexually assaulted.

In light of these facts, the question left to us is how do we support sexual assault victims who are up against such tremendous adversity?

In our post #MeToo world, it is time to go a step beyond recognizing the fact that these issues exist, and do more about it.

We need to recognize that there is a difference between the process of having justice and the process of healing.

The healing a victim has to go through should not be ignored even after their perpetrator is serving time.

Even though sexual assault survivors face tremendous adversity in terms of their mental health, we can support them and help them overcome those odds by empowering them, giving them spaces to speak and resources to fight.

While we never want sexual assault to happen, we have to end the stigma around sexual assault so that victims can seek the resources they need.

We need to support survivors more intentionally so that the shameful feeling they carry diminishes.

A victim should never feel guilty for being a victim. A victim should never blame themselves and feel less than because of actions committed against them.

The approach to helping sexual assault victims conquer their struggles does not only start after someone gets sexually assaulted. It also starts before.

We need to be proactive about preventing sexual assault in schools, in the workplace and on the streets.

It is important to recognize that if someone does get sexually assaulted that they will have people who will be there for them towards the process of healing so that they can feel as if they are a survivor.