Sexual violence is not a subject many people like to talk about. It is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. It is a violation of the body and mind, and the assailant is one of the worst in humanity. People don’t want to think about it, much less discuss it. We want to believe it won’t happen to any of us, when in reality, it happens to one in six females and one in thirty-three males. These are only the reported numbers and we all know how underreported sex crimes are.
Survivors of sexual violence often feel ashamed and humiliated. This crime is underreported because survivors feel they did something to deserve it: went on a date with the assailant, drank alcohol or did drugs at the time of assault, the assailant was a family member or close friend, fear of gossip and judgment, etc. The subject is “taboo” all over the United States because of its ugliness. When we avoid the subject of sexual violence, what is it we are teaching younger generations? Are we passing along these same hurtful myths that the survivor should be ashamed and asked for it? Stop reading for a moment and think back to when you were young: how often did your parents or someone talk to you about sexual violence? How many of your friends? How often have you spoken with your child about sexual violence? Would you and those you know feel comfortable talking about it now?
How do we explain our silence on the subject to the child sexual abuse victims? According to the U.S. Department of Justice, child sexual abuse incidents are vastly underreported as well. Many children are afraid to tell anyone what has happened. The perpetrator may have told them they’ll hurt them or their family, or that it has to be a secret, that no one will believe them, or that something bad will happen if they tell. Some children feel responsible and guilty because they cooperated or were talked into participating. Because the youth was talked into participating or manipulated, the perpetrator rarely has to use force, so there is not always physical signs of abuse.
Every ten seconds there is a report of child abuse in the United States. As it is with adult abuse survivors, child victims cross all socioeconomic status, ethnic and cultural lines, education levels, and religions. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 93% of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way and 68% are abused by family members. Holding true to the cycle of violence, 30% of these victims will later abuse their own children.
Not only will this sexual abuse affect the child for the rest of their lives, affect their families and secondary survivors, it will affect our community. Children who have been sexually abused are 2.5 time more likely to abuse alcohol and 3.8 times more likely to develop drug addictions. Nearly two-thirds of people in drug treatment report being abused as children, all according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, children who experience child abuse and neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% more likely to commit a violent crime.
Research clearly shows sexual violence has an effect on the individual, families, and communities. Survivors need to talk with someone to heal and recover. It is a subject that needs to be discussed because without talking and understanding what it is, it continues to happen. It continues to go underreported. The survivor continues to hurt. In this day and age, is it really acceptable for society to keep blaming the victim? Even if we are not pointing our fingers, by avoiding the subject the silence tells them it is something to be ashamed of.
This column is not is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice or treatment.