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The Prevalence of Sexual Abuse

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Sexual abuse is defined by the American Psychological Association as unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent. The month of April, 2012 has been designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so we here at Destination Hope: The Women’s Program felt this was a perfect time to bring this issue out of the dark and into the forefront of relevant conversation where it belongs.

Sexual abuse is far more prevalent than many in our society realize, and unfortunately that’s in large part thanks to the social stigma that often accompanies it. Research suggests that one in three women will be a victim of a sexual assault at some point in her life, and sadly only one out of five women who are assaulted actually report it. Why is there such a giant discrepancy in the number of women abused vs the women who will report it? In some cases, alcohol and drugs can often play a significant role in sexual abuse and details and memory may be hazy. The victim may not remember everything exactly or can’t be certain that she said no. While many women incorrectly believe that if they can’t remember the events leading up to the assault because they were intoxicated then they have no case, the United States penal code would beg to differ. In actuality, if either party has consumed alcohol or drugs to the point that they are “mentally incapacitated or physically helpless,” this constitutes an act of rape according to our statutes.

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Aftermath of Sexual Abuse

After being a victim of sexual assault, common immediate reactions include shock, fear and disbelief. What can add to the trauma is that most individuals who have been a victim of sexual abuse know their assailant. Longer term effects include anxiety, intense fear and very commonly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD,) which requires intense cognitive-behavioral therapy to recover. Unfortunately due to the sheer number of women who don’t report their attacks, seeking treatment is not always a reasonable expectation. Whether they feel ashamed, like they had something to do with it or they deserved it, these women will continue to relive their sexual abuse and have an extremely difficult time moving forward in their lives. In fact, many victims of sexual assault turn to drugs and alcohol as their coping mechanism to get a grip on their PTSD symptoms and feel like they have some control in their lives.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month exists to educate the population about the real truths and faces of sexual abuse. Almost every single one of us knows someone who’s been a victim of sexual abuse whether we’re aware of it or not. The more we educate the general public and support the survivors of these tragic assaults, the better we’ll be as a society at preventing them from continuing to happen.

Destination Hope: The Women’s Program is a full service drug, alcohol and dual diagnosis treatment center in Florida for women. If you or a loved one has developed a problem with drugs or alcohol after being a victim of sexual abuse, please don’t hesitate to call us today. This is not your fault, you have nothing to be ashamed of and it would be our honor to help you realize that yourself. When you’re ready, please pick up the phone.

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