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What is the definition of a sexual assault?

If someone is being subjected to any type of sexual activity against their will by one or more other people, this is considered a “sexual assault”.  The sexual acts on the victim could be many different types of experiences.  Women are most commonly the victims and may be subjected to unwanted acts of touching, groping, grabbing, oral or anal sex acts including penetration with a foreign object and of course unwanted sexual intercourse.

There are quite a number of ways that women are victimized by unwanted sexual activity.  Physical force is sometimes used but there also can be other ways a woman is forced into sexual activity against her will.  The aggressor can use bribery, blackmail or threats of violence to pressure a woman into having sex.  If the victim is a student, a patient or an employee the perpetrator could be using their authority over them to pressure them into having sex.

Women can be emotionally manipulated in many ways to get them to perform sexual acts against their will.  If a woman has been drinking or taking drugs to the point that she is unable to legally give consent as she is not in her right mind and can be taken advantage of.  There are times when the woman is threatened or her family is under threat unless she gives in, and this would be considered a sexual assault as she is not consenting freely.  And of course there are times when the woman is actually forced physically and even violence is used to get her to give in to the sexual act.

What type of person commits a sexual assault?

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) did a survey called “The National Crime Victimization Survey” and the results showed that over three quarters (76%) of victims of sexual assault were women who were assaulted by their significant other, whether it be their husband, a former husband, their live-in boyfriend, a male “friend” or even a date.  Only 18% of sexual assaults on women were perpetrated by a stranger, meaning that sexual assault by a stranger is the exception.

How prevalent is the problem of sexual assault?

The National Crime Victimization Survey, which was done in the early ‘90’s showed that from 1992 – 1993 there were about a half a million sexual assaults committed in the United States.  A third of those were “completed rapes” and another 28% of the assaults were “attempted rapes”.  When a survey was taken on a number of college campuses questioning a large number of female students it was found that 20% had been raped at some point in their life.  A national study done in the United States found that 13 – 17% of women questioned reported that they were victims of a “completed rape” and another 14% of women questioned claimed that they had been the victim of some other type of sexual assault in their lifetime.  Sexual assault is a traumatic event that occurs too frequently and typically by someone the victim knows.

What happens to the victim?

Not everyone has the same reaction to a sexual assault.  There are so many different ways a victim can respond that no predictable pattern exists for everyone.  Some women have an immediate reaction and others don’t react for a long time.  Some women recover and get on with their lives rather quickly but others suffer for a very long time from the assault.

Early on there is usually a feeling of shock and confusion.  This might be accompanied by a sense of being numb or fearful.  If they were assaulted by someone they know they may downplay the event and even if it was done by someone they don’t know some women just cannot completely admit what has happened.  They seek the comfort of denial for a period of time.

What are the typical reactions just after being sexually assaulted?

  • A state of dazed incoherence or of living in a dream.  Having a feeling of detachment or numbness.  Not recognizing the world around you as if it’s unreal or someplace strange and not familiar.
  • Having a hard time remembering exactly what happened in the assault.
  • The sexual assault keeps replaying over and over in the victim’s mind causing them to relive the experience indefinitely during waking hours, in dreams and in nightmares.
  • Staying away from people or places, thoughts or things that remind the victim of the assault.
  • An increased sense of being on edge, of being aroused and of anxiety which causes difficulty sleeping, concentrating or staying focused.

Because our treatment center relies on evidence based practices, our Intensive Outpatient Program shares many common methods with other successful treatment methods.  The foundation of our treatment program for relies on the principles of the stages of change, cognitive behavioral therapy, solution focused treatment, skills training and identifying repetitive dysfunctional behavioral relationship patterns to promote recovery from depression and other mental health disorders.  In fact, our Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of women who have been sexually assaulted in six peer reviewed treatment outcome studies.   Our treatment center provides services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  If you or a loved one has been the victim of a sexual assault and is showing signs of depression or anxiety, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan that can result in recovery.  Treatment for depression and anxiety can be highly successful.  Call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.