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Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month: Engaging Bystanders and Recognizing Emotional Effects

By HERWriter
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Mental Health related image Photo: Getty Images

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and organizations like Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, as well as the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, are trying to get the word out about what sexual assault is and how to prevent it.

Sexual assault is a broad term that includes many types of unwanted sexual contact. Sexual assault includes rape, fondling, incest, attempted rape, child molestation, sexual harassment and other acts and behaviors. Some states and laws have different definitions or use the term interchangeably with rape.

Although men can be sexually assaulted, women are more often victims. According to RAINN's website, "1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime," whereas "about 3 percent of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime."

“Each day, people witness a continuum of behaviors that range from being respectful and safe, to sexually abusive and violent,” said Tracy Cox, the communications director for NSVRC, in an email. “The 2011 Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) campaign explores common, everyday behaviors and offers individuals viable, responsible ways to intervene.”

Cox said some ways people can help prevent sexual assault is to "stand up for victims and believe them," "speak up when you hear harmful comments or witness violent acts," and "create policies at your workplace, agency, or school system to stop sexual violence and help victims."

Although it’s too soon to tell how this year’s response compares to others, she said that there has been a lot of feedback, including a proclamation from President Barack Obama.

“Our nation must continue to confront rape and other forms of sexual violence as a deplorable crime,” Obama said in his proclamation. “Too many victims suffer unaided, and too many offenders elude justice. As we mark National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, we recommit to building a society where no woman, man, or child endures the fear of assault or the pain of an attack on their physical well being and basic human dignity."

He later stated that the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Education are all working on different issues relating to sexual assault. For example, the CDC is working on engaging bystanders in sexual assault reduction.

The NSVRC is also working on engaging bystanders.

“I think the reason so many people have responded positively to this year’s campaign materials is because we are emphasizing that sexual violence impacts everyone and everyone can play a part in prevention,” Cox said.

Sexual assault has an obvious physical component, but the emotional and psychological after-effects can be just as painful.

For example, some emotional and psychological factors can contribute to victims not reporting sexual assault. These include the victim thinking she will be doubted, feeling embarrassed or ashamed because she was sexually assaulted, feeling like she is to blame, and fear of being sexually assaulted again.

The RAINN website lists all types of effects of sexual assault that involve psychological and emotional components, including turning to substance abuse, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders, eating disorders, depression, self-harm and injury, suicidal thoughts and dissociative identity disorder.

Some emotions survivors feel after sexual assault include “powerlessness and loss of control,” “emotional numbness,” and “denial,” according to the Arizona Sexual Assault Network website. Survivors might have flashbacks of what happened, and they might have nightmares.

Survivors of sexual assault can cope with their emotions by receiving counseling, writing down their thoughts and feelings in a journal, engaging in meditation and other relaxation exercises, getting support from family and friends, joining a support group, setting limits on seeing people who make it difficult to recover, and participating in fun activities, according to the RAINN website. Survivors can also make sure to get adequate sleep, food, exercise and medical care.

Family and friends can help survivors cope by listening to them, supporting them, encouraging them to get help and letting them know that they are loved and not to blame for the sexual assault, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime website. Also, family and friends can help the survivor seek medical attention (if necessary) and report the sexual assault effectively. For example, the survivor should avoid taking a shower and doing anything that could eliminate evidence of the assault until after an examination is completed. This makes it more likely that the attacker can be prosecuted.

For more information on how to recover from sexual assault, how to help those who have been sexually assaulted and how to help prevent sexual assault, visit the websites below.


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EmpowHER Guest

i think its a good because it shows the deffenition for sexaul harssment and assualt

May 4, 2011 - 8:54am
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