I am excited to start a new series over on the blog called "What is it?" This series will focus on different areas/topics of mental health, life changing events, symptoms, etc. that can help us understand our own and others' daily struggles.
Let's start with a topic that has been in the news frequently and will inevitably pop up for some as we begin a new school year: sexual assault. Here is the definition of sexual assault as proposed by the Centers for Disease Control: The use of physical force to compel a person to engage in a sexual act against his or her own will, whether or not the act is completed; an attempted or completed sex act involving a person who is unable to understand the nature or condition of the act, to decline participation, or to communicate unwillingness to engage in the sexual act (e.g. because of illness, disability, or the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or due to intimidation or pressure); and/or abusive sexual contact."
Culturally, we are often misguided about what sexual assault actually is. On college campuses, assault often happens within the context of drinking. Due to this, I believe that many victims feel intense shame because they were engaging in a risky behavior, creating the idea that they got themselves in this mess. We are often told or others imply that the victim could have done something to prevent what happened (i.e. dressed differently or not been wasted) and it is their fault. I think the above definition is helpful because it points out that the person/victim is unable to understand the nature of the act and that they may be unable to communicate their unwillingness because they were drunk or high. Such a depth of shame is created when the victims are told that that it is their fault.
Shame keeps us silent so when we are told that we could have prevented it, we put our heads down and push through the day. Carrying around this burden and this shame causes us to experience an increase in anxiety, depression, and wrecks our ability to feel safe and connected to others.
According to RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. Only 6/1000 perpetrators actually end up going to prison for what they have done. Only 310/1000 assaults are actually reported, that's 2/3 of women that do not report that something horrifying has happened to them.
Healing from a trauma such as sexual assault takes time. There is no timetable for healing and getting help is the best step in making that healing happen. The local sexual assault center has fantastic resources that are confidential and understanding. If you are scared to reach out to a professional, find a safe person to talk to about what has happened to you. Sharing with someone what has happened can decrease the shame and set you on the path to healing.