Sexual assault is an act of violence that is by definition against the victim’s will. The victim is forced to submit to genital, oral and/or anal sexual acts and often due to aggression, abuse and degradation. The attacker controls the situation by the use of physical force, threats of harm and intimidation. The victim fears she is going to be killed or injured; and feels that survival is dependent on compliance and submission to the offender’s demands.
Sexual assault is an emotionally charged issue with medical, social, political and legal undertones.
These acts are considered sexual violence if they are non-consensual or committed against someone that is unable to provide consent.
Sexual assault is not only a physical experience but has concomitant psychological consequences. Survivals of childhood sexual trauma are at high risk of post-traumatic stress disorder characterised by intense fear, helplessness, horror, reccurring recollections or dreams of the event, persistent avoidance of all things associated with the trauma, lack of responsiveness and increased alertness to perceived threats.
They are also more likely to suffer depression, suicide, drug abuse and eating disorders. Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse experience problems, such as low sexual interest and a few close relationships.
In other cases, some survivors display high-risk sexual behaviours (e.g. promiscuity) that may be attributed in part to modelling some of the behaviours of their perpetrator. Such folks adopt maladaptive coping mechanisms to induce changes in consciousness and memory; producing perceptions, that one is living in a dream or a movie.
These experiences are capable of impairing abilities to work of socialise. Extreme experiences of victimisation are also associated with symptoms of borderline personality disorder characterised by enduring patterns of instability in relationships, goals, values and mood; non-fatal suicidal behaviour and suicidal threats and other harmful impulsive behaviours.
Other forms of personality disorders may be distinguished by enduring patterns of suspiciousness, grandiosity and morbid craving for admiration, social inhibition and feelings of inadequacy or submissive and clingy behaviour. Victims of adult sexual trauma are vulnerable to immediate distress, fear, anxiety and confusion. They also experience emotional detachment, flashbacks and sleeping problems. Some develop depressive illness, physical symptoms without medical conditions, severe preoccupations with physical appearances, sexual dysfunction and extreme body piercing and tattooing. Some may use illicit drugs to cope with the trauma. Parents, mental health workers, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders should provide platforms for the referral and care of victims.
Parents also must be vigilant to protect children from sexual victimisation.
Writer: Adeoye Oyewole