A disturbing new connection has been found between sexual assault and poor health. Sexual abuse advocates are now touring hospitals and dentists' offices alerting health practitioners to the long-term effects of molestation on the body. Findings report that survivors of abuse are less likely to seek medical care for a number of reasons, which eventually erodes overall health and well being for women as a whole.
First of all, abuse often causes individuals to detach from their bodies. To forget the attack, survivors must learn to block out any negative physical sensations. This can lead to negligence in terms of everyday hygiene and routine physical examinations.
Of course, survivors of abuse are also often terrified of allowing a man and/or stranger to touch their bodies. This can sometimes lead to panic attacks and the avoidance of doctor’s visits altogether. Specific tests, such as pap smears, mammograms, and strep throat swabs can all create flashbacks and force the victim to relive the ordeal.
It is common for those who have suffered from abuse during childhood to simply believe that their bodies are not worth taking care of. For these individuals, poor health can sometimes function as a form of self-inflicted injury, similar to wrist cutting. In a very real way they are sacrificing their bodies in order to gain peace of mind.
“It becomes sort of an increasing circular problem,” explains Vicki-lynn Anderson, sexual abuse advocate and public educator for the Catholic Charities Phoenix House. “If you don’t take care of the problem, the more painful it becomes; the more pain, the more it reminds the person of the abuse, so they don’t take care of the problem.”
Thankfully, no one is putting the responsibility on abuse victims to solve the logical issues that arise. Rather, the solution lies in educating health practitioners about the correct ways to detect and handle potential problems.
Anderson recommends that doctors include an abuse section on health history forms and be equipped to deal with any information that is disclosed. It may be helpful for the office to keep informational pamphlets on file and establish relationships with several nonprofit organizations in the community. These resources will better enable practitioners to refer abuse victims to the proper support systems.
With the appropriate level of care and awareness, we can prevent victims of sexual abuse from reliving the terror over and over again, and ensure that both their bodies and minds heal completely.