It is no news that sexual assault leaves a lasting impact on its victims. Yet for many of us, experiencing sexual assault is a foreign fear that we live never knowing. Thus, not many of us know what is like to be a sexual assault survivor. However, there are reasons to start caring. According to national statistics, 1 out of 4 women and 1 out of 6 men experience sexual assault at some point in their life (National statistics on sexual violence). Over the world, over 25% of women face sexual violence, most often as teens or young adults. These statistics show that sexual assault survivors are everywhere, and this starts to put things into perspective. Survivors of sexual assault are living, breathing souls. They are a part of our society, and they are a testament to their own strength. Amidst the lack of common protocol and the taboo nature of sex offense, many survivors of sexual trauma face a lonely struggle. For her 2018 paper, Hadar Keshet and her team surveyed over 100 American women to learn more about the mental implications of experiencing sexual assault. Their study uncovers the sad but powerful truth about sexual trauma and how it can change someone.
To find the connection between the type of trauma and how central the trauma has been to the survivor’s self-image, Keshet and her team completed a focused comparison between the impacts of sexual trauma and other types of trauma. In her findings, sexual violence degrades one’s self-perception significantly more than car accidents or unexpected deaths. In addition to Keshet, multiple large-scale studies have shown that those who suffered from sexual violence are more likely to experience PTSD symptoms than losing a loved one in a car crash. You might wonder how sexual assault can compare to motor accidents and death, and you bring up a good point that not enough people ask. Car accidents or abrupt deaths of loved ones are more widely feared because they are more likely to happen to you and anybody else. However, these incidents do not happen because of bad intentions, but sexual assault does. The devastation of someone deliberately harming and exploited the most intimate part of you is immense. Psychology has shown that when someone purposely hurts us, there are greater emotional consequences than when someone accidentally hurt us.
Acts of sexual assault shake people to their core. In Keshet’s study, the trauma of being sexually assaulted becomes more central to the subject’s self-perception than any other trauma. Women who have experienced sexual violence in this study expressed lower self-esteem and more negative thoughts about oneself than subjects who have experienced any other trauma. In addition, Keshet and her group found that survivors of sexual trauma are more likely to struggle with thoughts of intimacy and resilience than other participants.
For the much of reason that sexual assault is more emotionally impactive than driving accidents and unexpected deaths, the planned and malicious nature behind sexual exploitation completely destroys a person’s sense of security. They are vulnerable and small in the tide of events they cannot control. It doesn’t help that 8 out of 10 people knew their abuser before they assaulted them (National statistics on sexual violence). Survivors feel betrayed and experience first-hand the injustice behind such an act. These feelings stay and manifest within survivors. They will never truly be free from their own mind.
They say that time heals all wounds, but Keshat’s study show that no matter the kind of trauma occurred, the time the incident took place had no significance on how they were currently affected by the incident. In addition, the trauma from sexual assault intensifies the effect of future emotional strains. Once someone has experienced sexual assault, they will never be the same or see the world the same way again. However, understanding the painful loneliness behind sexual assault may be the best action we can do for the survivors living in our world.
Keshet, H., Foa, E. B., & Gilboa-Schechtman, E. (2018, July 16). Women’s self-perceptions in the aftermath of trauma: The role of trauma-centrality and trauma-type. Retrieved from EBSCOhost database.
National statistics on sexual violence. (n.d.). Retrieved September 16, 2018, from Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence website: https://endsexualviolencect.org/resources/get-the-facts/national-stats/