Sexual abuse and assault is one of the most serious crimes that men and women face in Australia today. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the number of people with a principal offence of sexual assault and related offences increased by 19 per cent in the year 2013-14 and numbers have increase over the previous years and decades.
In comparison to the statistics on the global average of reported sexual assault of 7.2 per cent, the reported sexual assault of Australian and New Zealand women who are 15 years or older is at 16.4 per cent, over double the global average.
Given the increasing high numbers of sexual assaults that happen in Australia, the cultural stigmas still surrounding the reporting of sexual assault and abuse and the overwhelming and destructive psychological effects of sexual assault and abuse, psychological treatments such as counselling, psychotherapy and supports groups are much needed in our society to help those who have experienced sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse is classified as any sexual act that occurs without the individual’s agreement or consent that is violent, hostile and exploitative. Despite the high number of women who are sexually assaulted, as was previously mentioned, a lot of cases are unfortunately never reported to the police, as the victim and their families often know the perpetrator of the assault. Given the familiarity of the perpetrator to the victim of the assault, this can often create added conflict and suffering psychologically to the victim, particularly if the perpetrator is a family member of the victim.
The Psychological Effects of Sexual Abuse
Sexual assault and abuse is a highly traumatic experience. The psychological effects of the abuse can often be long lasting and devastating to the individual. The individuals who have been sexually abused often experience the incapacitating psychological symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress can be re-experiencing the memories of the abuse, persistent thoughts and nightmares of the trauma and avoiding stimulus related to the abuse, among many others.
Sexual abuse can also cause a disruption in your sense of identity, which in turn changes the way you relate to yourself, others and the world around you. The feelings of intense shame, confusing and conflicting emotions around guilt and responsibility and a decreased sense of worth can lead to self-destructive and risky behaviors.
Counselling and Psychotherapy Can Help
It is important to recognize that in all cases of sexual abuse, it is never the victim’s fault and that for each person the experience of abuse will be different. To how each person responded to the assault or abuse itself, to how the psychological trauma is experienced, the many meanings that the victim has made of the abuse and how the mind and body will respond to the abuse will be different in each individual case.
This is important for the person who has been abused to know, as it is important in the therapeutic process to speak about and to understand what has happened to you and how it has affected you in order to work through and to try and make sense of all the painful aspects of the abuse and its effect on your life. There is no set time for how long this can take and this is another aspect that will be different in each case.
If you or someone you may know has experienced sexual abuse, there are many resources out there that can help and I have listed a few of those at the end of this article. I work therapeutically with men and women who have suffered from sexual abuse and you can contact me either through phone or email if you feel counselling or psychotherapy would help you.
Paul Reid – Counselling & Psychotherapy