Dealing with sexual abuse is one of the most painful and rigorous experiences one can face. Dealing with the abuse itself can take up a major part of our mental strength. But, we often overlook the aftermath conveniently. Statistics show that 8% to 31% of females and 3% to 17% of males are subjected to sexual abuse at least once in their lifetime. This leads to an alarming number of individuals carrying the trauma with them. They can be at risk to themselves and others (by continuing the cycle of abuse). This makes this conversation ever more important. In these difficult times, it can be hard if you live with an abuser.
We will break down sexual abuse as an incident, the outcome of the incident, and try to provide necessary coping skills. We urge you to read this article even if you’re not a victim as it might give you some insight on how to help someone who might be dealing with sexual abuse.
What is sexual abuse?
While the common notion of sexual abuse pertains only to molestation or rape, it can be of various types. Any touch or activity without the explicit consent of a person can be termed as sexual abuse. Physical abuse may include fondling, molestation, penetration or attempting to do any of these. Psychological sexual abuse refers to manipulating the victim into performing sexual acts they are not comfortable with. Emotional sexual abuse is a variation of psychological sexual abuse. Here, the abuser takes advantage of the victim to get consent, by lying.
Where does sexual abuse occur?
It can occur absolutely anywhere, both in public as well as private places. An uncomfortable grope during a bus ride to a forced hug at your friends’ party is sexual abuse. But it rears an ugly face when it occurs within the walls of your home or the house of a person you trust. People don’t believe it when it occurs in such a space. So you end up staying silent. In short, you can’t predict where sexual abuse can occur. Despite being careful, anyone can fall victim to it.
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When do you know you have been sexually abused?
The most common argument of the “Me too” movement was the fact that many of these incidents happened years ago. The victims were mocked, gaslighted, and asked, “Why didn’t you say this earlier? Why now?” The answer is simple. The victim chooses when to tell their story. Many of us face sexual abuse at a young age when we don’t even know what sexual abuse is. At other times we deal with the abuse silently because we cannot come to terms to accept what has happened. Our mind takes time to process the event and the abuser.
This brings us back to the question – When do we know that we have been sexually abused? You’ve been abused when a particular action takes place without your consent and has made you uncomfortable. The very thought of the incident fills you with dread.
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Some ask for evidence, others say that we are overthinking, that it was “just a touch” or “just a hug”, or that it might have been an accident. But they forget that the human body can recognise the intent behind touch and your gut feeling is seldom wrong. So, if you feel you have been a victim of abuse, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Who can be a sexual abuser?
ANYONE. A tough pill to swallow, but it is important to understand that anyone can be an abuser. And that their relation to you in no way justifies their action if they abuse you.
In many cases, sexual abuse begins at home, often by a relative. Something that they may see as harmless fun goes on to have an everlasting impact on the young mind, which later causes intimacy issues. Sexual abusers often make the victim believe that it is the victim’s fault by manipulating and gaslighting the victim. The abuser tries to displace their guilt and sexual transgression upon the victim, thus clearing their consciousness.
The sexual abuser can also deny the event which plays with the victim’s memory. This may push the victim into a state of confusion. The impending guilt that builds up begins to interfere with their daily life and clouds every judgement they make. Patriarchal society doesn’t believe in male survivors. The responsibility of the abuse falls upon female survivors. So it is hard to make a victim believe that they aren’t at fault.
Why is it important to deal with/speak about sexual abuse?
This is one of the most important questions in this discussion. The effects of sexual abuse may differ from person to person. While some choose not to speak and bury it within themselves, others confide with their close family and friends. Most victims and survivors replay the incident in their mind and get frequent flashbacks. Feelings of shame and guilt fill them. They hold themselves accountable for a mistake that wasn’t theirs. They have trauma that manifests itself through their social relations and behaviour and may become withdrawn.
And it’s for this reason, it is necessary to have the coping skills that help one fight against sexual abuse. The most important reason why one should choose to speak or deal with the abuse in their way is simply that it aims to liberate the victim and help them cope with the sexual abuse. Coping with sexual abuse will help survivors continue with their lives and slowly get back to their normal lives.
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Learning and practicing healthy coping strategies helps us fight depression, PTSD, and eating disorders. Speaking about it may help us identify people who are dealing with experiences similar to us thus giving us bouts of strength.
Understanding that it’s okay to take our time to become normal and get support from our loved ones will go a long way. When you deal with abuse, you are dealing with your abuser and the incident in a way that helps you gain control of the narrative and situation.
How can we fight sexual abuse?
Fighting sexual abuse is very important because the abuser can also be an oppressor who may twist the narrative to make the victim seem like the abuser. The abuser walks free while the victim is coerced into self-guilt and self-loathing. The most common form of fighting sexual abuse is calling out the abuser as soon as you are in terms of the incident. This sends out power to other survivors to tell their stories too. Fighting sexual abuse also means lending an empathetic ear and believing a person when they say, “I was sexually abused”.
A few coping skills include journaling your feelings, yoga or talking to a professional. Talking to a professional therapist can do wonders and helps the victim to get back into their normal routine. It is a confidential and non-judgemental place where you can explore the incident in depth.
While we acknowledge that there are false narratives about sexual abuse/assault, one should not view an incident with distrust that shuts the victim down from opening up. Phrases and terms like “What? No, I know them for ages, they would never do something like that.”, dissolves the victim’s narrative and depreciates their value. It’s important to trust them after which one can listen to the other side and make a judgement.
Dealing with sexual abuse or a victim of sexual abuse can be extremely hard and requires a lot of patience and constant reassurance. Cutting off ties with the victim’s abuser will give strength and a sense of relief to the victim. Coping with sexual assault and abuse include coping skills to calm your mind, strategies to face your fears and the necessary skills to manage your thoughts. Group therapy’s and support groups can be of great help too.
And most importantly, remember that if you were sexually abused, you are a survivor. It wasn’t your fault.