Sexual assault is not a topic any of us like to think or talk about.
Some of us are uncomfortable because we don’t like unpleasant topics. Or maybe we feel embarrassed.
Some of us don’t really believe sexual assault happens that much. We try to pretend it only happens to a “certain kind of woman.” We don’t believe it would ever affect us, our daughters or our friends. And it certainly couldn’t find its way into the church!
But that is not true. Sexual violence affects ALL genders, ages, races, religions, incomes, abilities, professions, ethnicities and sexual orientations.
Still others of us know entirely too much about “sexual assault.” We’ve experienced it up close and personal. Those words bring up terrifying memories of rape, fondling, incest, sexual harassment, being trafficked or filmed for pornography.
We were threatened to never tell. As children we were told it was our fault and no one would believe us if we told. As adults we were afraid to report it because we didn’t want to be humiliated or blamed.
Statistics may be something that make you yawn. But think of this: One in three to four girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18. One in five adult women will experience rape or attempted rape sometime in their lives. Now think of the women in your life. Those statistics apply to them…to you.
The effect of this sexual violence impacts the victims long-term and in many ways. Diane Langberg in her book, “On the Threshold of Hope” identifies many ways sexual abuse damages us.
- Sexual abuse damages our bodies. It can cause personal injuries, pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. It also affects the way the victim perceives and thinks about her body.
- Sexual abuse damages our emotions. Fear, guilt, shame, self-blame and anger become all too familiar companions and affect every area of the survivor’s life.
- Sexual abuse damages our relationships. Trust and boundaries become skewed. Survivors may withdraw from others including spouses, family members and friends.
- Sexual abuse damages our thinking. Lies abound: “It must have been my fault. I’m damaged goods. Now I have no value or worth. No one is safe.”
- Sexual abuse damages our spirits. We question God’s goodness and love. We demand to know “Why?” And if the abuser is a father-figure, as is so often the case in childhood sexual abuse, it makes it especially hard to call God “Father.”
From a mental health perspective, sexual assault can cause PTSD, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
Sexual violence, sad to say, is not a new phenomenon. We can even find stories in the Bible. King David’s daughter, Tamar, was raped by her half-brother, Amnon, and then thrown out of his house. Her full brother Absalom basically said, “Don’t worry,” and then her father ignored the offense. See 2 Samuel 13 for the full story.
One of the worst stories of gang rape is found in Judges 19. When the men of Gibeah wanted to have sex with the visiting (male) Levite, their host gave them the Levite’s concubine/wife instead. The men of the city raped her all night and in the morning she was dead.
So, what can we do to help stop sexual assault?
“PREVENTION IS POSSIBLE” is this year’s theme for SAAM. Here are their suggestions as to how you can make a difference.
- Intervene to stop concerning behavior
- Speak up when you hear rape jokes or harmful comments
- Believe and support survivors
- Create prevention policies at your workplace or school
- Coordinate a community event to raise awareness
- Talk with neighbors about ways everyone can get involved
- Email legislators to gain support for prevention and services
Visit www.nsvrc.org/saam for more information.
And one more: Call GateWay of Hope at 913.393.GATE(4283). We understand sexual abuse. We can help educate your church or place of work. If you are a survivor of any kind of sexual violence, our counselors are here to walk beside you.
Call today. We can’t help you if you don’t reach out.
In next week’s blog post, we’ll take a look at how to support someone who has been sexually assaulted.
©2016 Deborah Simon, Director of Counseling
GateWay of Hope