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Overcome Sexual Abuse: Its Psychological and Physical Trauma

Explore the deep impact of sexual abuse on victims' psychological and physical well-being in this insightful piece. Understand the prevalence of sexual violence, psychological trauma, including depression and anxiety, and physical trauma, such as post-traumatic disorders.


Discover approaches for recovery and support for survivors. Break the silence and challenge the societal stigma surrounding sexual abuse


Table of Content


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Image by Freepik

Discussions regarding sexual abuse in many societies might become a terrifying experience for those who have undergone the abuse. Many victims have remained silent due to the fear of judgment from society and further consequences.


Sexual abuse can come in different shapes, from eerie seductions by close relatives to violent rape committed by strangers. Either encounter can leave a deep and long psychological and physical trauma to the victims. 


Sexual Abuse Around The World


Sexual abuse itself can happen anywhere to anyone. There have been many cases where sexual perpetrators are the victim's partner, uncle, brother or even father. The trauma when someone encounters this type of trauma can result in a lifetime of difficulty in trusting men. Sexual abuse has instantaneous and long-lasting physical, mental, economic, and social impacts on the victims (Moshella, 2020)


It is one of the most common forms of abuse that is experienced in a variety of environments. Based on the recent survey conducted by the Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey, on average, there are 463,634 who suffer from rape and sexual assault (age 12 or older) each year in the United States. Unfortunately, many sexual abuse has been committed in campus environments where students pursue their education. Though all students are at risk, 20% of female and 5% of male students declare been sexually assaulted at least once when they were studying for an undergraduate degree, and intense speculations show that between 5% to 80% of females and 1% to 84% of males could theoretically experience this crime. This is an alarming percentage of this crime happening in our society. 


Apart from the disheartening data pertaining to the United States, sexual abuse continues to be a widespread problem around the world, with concerning figures coming from a number of different places. Reports indicate comparable unsettling developments throughout Europe. For example, the Office for National Statistics in the United Kingdom states that since the age of sixteen, an estimated 20% of women and 4% of males have been the victim of sexual assault. On the other hand, official data in nations such as France and Germany show a notable annual number of recorded occurrences of sexual violence; nevertheless, the entire scope of the issue could be underestimated as a result of underreporting.


Statistics on sexual abuse in Africa also present a concerning image. Reports from agencies such as the South African Police Service reveal concerning rates of sexual assault and rape in South Africa, a nation beset by high rates of gender-based violence. Sexual assault is also sadly ubiquitous in conflict-affected areas of the continent, such South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it is frequently used as a weapon of war.


Sexual abuse in the Asia-Pacific area is still a serious problem. Counties such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and India record a sizable number of cases annually. For example, the National Crime Records Bureau in India recorded nearly 32,000 rape incidents in 2019 alone, but analysts think the real figure is far higher.


This article will dive deep into the understanding of sexual abuse, psychological and physical trauma resulting from sexual abuse, and the journey of recovery from sexual abuse. 


Understanding Sexual Abuse 


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Image by Freepik

Sexual abuse or violence can be a very traumatic encounter for the victims of this crime.


An act that can be deemed as sexual violence if it is non-consensual or committed against someone who is not able to give consent (Basile & Saltzman, 2002).


The term sexual abuse itself can become an umbrella term for various acts of sexual violence. It can range from non-contact acts of sexual to physical sexual abuse, such as rape, child molestation, incest, and non-consensual sexual contact.


Non-contact sexual abuse can come in various forms, including sexual, verbal aggression or catcalling, having sexual intercourse in front of a child, and pornographic sites that display the sexual content of someone without previous consent. 


Not only does the act of attempted rape committed by a stranger falls into non-consensual sexual contact, but it can also happen in marriage; it is addressed as marital rape. Every minute, one woman experiences sexual assault in Canada. It is very concerning that many sexual abuse cases happen within one's household.


Child abuse has been a vast and concerning issue globally. It is an insidious, consistent, and excruciating issue that, depending on the studied population and description, affects 2-62% of women and 3-16% of men as victims (Johnson, 2004). 


Sexual abuse in any form can deeply traumatise the victim for several years. Many do not even have the chance to live a normal life after carrying the enormous trauma from such abuse. Unfortunately, many cases are not even reported due to the fear of societal judgments towards victims. In some cultures, sexual abuse or violent acts towards women are seen as a result of the women's own fault.


The act of victim-blaming has become an occasional thing in many countries where it becomes the victim's fault that caused the abuse to happen to them. Victims are often accused of not being able to protect themselves by showing too much skin and using outfits that enable such sexual abuse. This often results in the hesitancy to report such crimes to law enforcement.


Psychological Trauma of Sexual Abuse 


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Image by Anastazia Kazakova

Sexual abuse can cause various traumas for the victims, including physical and psychological trauma. Though the body can recover from physical trauma in a shorter time, psychological trauma can last a lifetime.


Some victim reports that they did not have any long-lasting psychological trauma after their sexual abuse, and some have to undergo years of therapy to overcome the anxiety and depression the sexual abuse has caused. 


The concussions of each individual who goes through this experience are very different to one another. It is also worth mentioning that every encounter of sexual abuse is also very different to one another. The severity of the traumas depends on the age of the victim, the response of society, the environment and the amount of violence inserted through the sexual abuse. 


The psychological trauma of a sexual abuse victim experiences very negative and horrifying emotions linked to their terrible abuse. Many of the sexual abuse victims later develop severe mental health conditions that interfere with their daily lives. Victims of sexual abuse may develop some mental issues like depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress (PTSD), and attachment issues.


1. Depression 


Often, survivors of sexual abuse may have difficulties coping with their traumatic experiences. With the negative stigma surrounding victims of sexual abuse and the traumatic experience itself, these victims may experience feelings of hopelessness and lack of self-worth. 


2. Anxiety 


Experiencing sexual abuse may cause severe anxiety to victims. Many victims have suffered anxiety and fear of encountering another sexual abuse in the future. In some cases, victims of violent sexual abuse can develop a severe panic attack and fear of people who resemble the perpetrator. For instance, if a man with small eyes and a tall body sexually violated someone, the victim might have fear or feel uncomfortable with someone who has similar features. 


3. Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD)


Victims of sexual abuse are often left with a deep and painful mental scar that can haunt them for years. The horrific memories of the abuse may cause the victim to relive the abuse and experience the trauma all over again. This disruptive flashback of the event may cause many issues that can interfere with the victim's life. 


4. Attachment issues


After experiencing a traumatic experience, many victims find it very difficult to form a romantic connection with other people. It can either come off as too enthusiastic to develop a close relationship with their significant other or an immense fear of connecting with their partner. Some may experience difficulties forming an attachment to someone due to insecurity.  



Physical Trauma of Sexual Abuse


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Image by Freepik

Sexual abuse can be defined as a type of sexual violence that includes physical transgressions such as rape, attempted rape, uninvited sexual, unwanted physical contact, and forcing the victims to conduct various sexual acts.


By definition, sexual abuse directly affects the victim's physical as it is the main target of the abuse itself. The sexual abuse, which is directed toward the victim's physical, may cause the body to react in different ways depending on the severity of the abuse. 


Several factors may affect the harshness of the physical trauma caused by the abuse: the age of the victim, the perpetrator, the amount of violence, and the initial physical condition of the victim.


Unlike psychological trauma caused by the act of sexual violence, physical trauma from sexual abuse can be immediately seen. While psychological trauma can happen directly in some cases, some report that the trauma they experienced happened gradually over the years. The physical trauma that victims of sexual abuse might experience can vary differently depending on the sexual abuse that occurred. 


1. Bruises and fractures


In many cases of sexual abuse, victims might encounter perpetrators who enjoy showing power and control by asserting dominance through physical abuse during their acts of sexual violence. Many of this physical abuse, which happens during the occurrence, cause severe damage to the victim's physical body.


Almost all victims of sexual abuse are seen to have bruises on many parts of their bodies. Some victims who tried to fight back and defend themselves often find their selves having fractures and other injuries caused by the perpetrators or their attempt to escape the abuse. 


2. Sexually transmitted disease (STD)


Sexually transmitted disease (STD) is a very serious effect that can be caused by sexual abuse. Findings from studies show evidence that child physical and sexual abuse can lead to a higher risk for STDs (Wilson & Widom, 2020). 


Unfortunately, victims of sexual abuse have to go through sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that will permanently affect their bodies. Not to mention, the stigma that surrounds people who carry these diseases remains unfavourable


3. Unwanted Pregnancy 


In many cases, victims who survived sexual abuse, these victims end up with unwanted pregnancies. Pregnancies that are caused by sexual abuse can often severely affect the victim's mental and physical health. Moreover, many victims of sexual assault, which leads to pregnancies, are seen in underage children.


Victims who are categorized as children physically are not able to go through pregnancies. This tragic occurrence often leads to bigger health complications for the victims. 



Trauma Analysis Caused by Sexual Abuse


To provide an easier understanding regarding the comparison of both physical and psychological trauma caused by sexual abuse, you can read through this table: 


Aspect

Psychological Trauma

Physical Trauma

Definition

The emotional and psychological effects caused by the abuse.

The bodily injuries and physical pain and trauma caused by the abuse.

Manifestations

Anxiety, depression, post-traumatic disorder (PTSD), attachment issues and addiction.

Bruises and fractures, sexually transmitted disorders (STD) and pregnancy.

Long term consequences

Low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, fear and no desire for sexual and intimate intercourse.

Deteriorating health conditions and reproductive health issues

Coping Mechanism

Avoidance, retracting from society to self-harm.

Finding a mechanism, retracting from society

Treatment

Therapy, appointment with a psychologist and treatment from a psychiatrist. 

Medical treatment, rehabilitation, forensic examination


Recovery and Healing from Sexual Abuse


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Image by jcomp on Freepik

Sexual abuse may cause various kinds of traumas with different treatments for different individuals. It is important to remember that every victim has their struggles and experiences regarding their abuse.


Most victims might even develop both physical and psychological traumas that may affect how they function in their everyday lives. Furthermore, in the society we live in today, it is shameful that there are still people who lack empathy towards victims and instead blame the victim for the horrifying crimes against them. 


The negative stigma surrounding the sexual abuse and manifestations of the trauma might isolate victims and worsen their mental and physical health. The victim's family members and close friends must understand the struggles and journey of the victim to achieve full recovery. For victims to fully heal and recover, several ways can be done.


  • Find trusted medical assistance and seek therapy.


Sexual abuse is a challenging and complex thing that might happen to someone. It can cause very different traumas to different victims depending on how violent and severe the abuse was. Hence, victims need to be assisted by professionals to recover and heal properly.


Finding a trusted medical assistant with whom the victim can comfortably share their experience might not be easy. However, victims must go through this process to get the help they need to recover. 


  • Share your story 


It might be uncomfortable to share moments of your lives when you were vulnerable and helpless. However, victims must be courageous enough to share their stories with others.


Acknowledging their trauma and struggles is an essential step towards the healing process. Previous movements have been done to encourage people who go through such traumatic incidents. The most famous movement by far is the #Metoo movement, which has gained millions of attention and helped many people in their journey towards recovery. 


  • Break the stigma


It is already difficult enough for victims who go through this horrifying abuse; it does not feel ethical to have a negative judgment towards the pain and burden they carry. The negative stigma around women and men who go through this abuse is very cruel. 


Furthermore, blaming the victim for being responsible for the abuse against them is very wrong. It has been proven several times that clothing victims use does not necessarily affect the risk of getting this abuse. Many victims of sexual abuse are even ranging from the age of 12 and under.



It has been clear that victim blaming and putting an unfavourable stigma towards victims only brings harm and causes misleading judgements. It is essential as a society to break this stigma and support victims of this abuse so they can recover and heal. 


Key Takeaways:


  • Sexual abuse is a pervasive global issue, causing profound physical and psychological trauma to victims.

  • Victims face various forms of abuse, from non-contact acts to violent assaults like rape and incest.

  • Psychological trauma includes depression, anxiety, PTSD, and attachment issues, while physical trauma includes bruises, fractures, STDs, and unwanted pregnancies.

  • Recovery requires support systems, therapy, sharing stories, and breaking the stigma.

  • Communities must provide a supportive environment, free from judgment and victim-blaming.

  • Collective action is needed to prevent future instances of sexual violence and create a safer world for all individuals.



Written by Ida Ayu Merlyn Ardhia Prada

Edited by Virginia Helzainka



References


Basile, K. C., & Saltzman, L. E. (2002). Sexual violence surveillance: Uniform definitions and recommended Data Elements. PsycEXTRA Dataset. https://doi.org/10.1037/e721362007-001 


Johnson, C. F. (2004). Child sexual abuse. The Lancet, 364(9432), 462–470. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(04)16771-8 


Liveri, K., Dagla, M., Sarantaki, A., Orovou, E., & Antoniou, E. (2023). Abuse of girls during childhood and its impacts on the health of their adult lives: A systematic review. Cureus. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.34981 


Wilson, H. W., & Widom, C. S. (2009). Sexually transmitted diseases among adults who had been abused and neglected as children: a 30-year prospective study. American Journal of Public Health, 99(S1). https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2007.131599 


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