Sexual Abuse

There are many forms of sexual violations, all of which are abusive and often result in sexual trauma.  Two major delineations exist:  childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual violence.  All acts under these two categories are considered sexual violence, especially if these are non-consensual or have been committed under duress.

Both childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual violence is further categorised as:

  1. Contact abuse — range of which includes sexual touching to outright rape.  Contact sexual violence may encompass completed or attempted penetration involving any of these parts: penis, vagina, anus, and mouth.  It can also involve sexual touching of the breasts, genitals, groin, inner thighs, buttocks, or anus.
  1. Non-contact abuse — may involve forced participation in pornography, exhibitionism, and inappropriate modelling of sexually provocative clothes or behaviour. Non-contact abuse or violence is usually voyeuristic and can include verbal and behavioural harassment.

Sexual abuse or violence is considered a childhood tragedy if the victim is under 18 years of age at the time the crime was committed.  Adult sexual violence refer to victims who are 18 years or older.

Psychological Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

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Mental disorders often follow sexual abuse, particularly when the individuals in question are children.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common result among sexually molested children who because of a traumatic event or a series of them, experience terrifying feelings of extreme fear, helplessness, shame, and worthlessness.  These victims often exhibit negative coping symptoms such as numbness, lack of responsiveness, paranoia on perceived threats, and recurring nightmares.  As such a number of such patients additionally suffer from depression, anxiety disorder, substance abuse, and eating disorders.  Many may have suicidal thoughts and intentions as well.  These symptoms may impair an individual’s quality of life, making him unable to hold a job, get work, maintain relationships with friends and family, or do everyday tasks requiring some form of social contact.

Sexually abused children may grow up to be either sexually inhibited adults or highly promiscuous ones.  Because of repeated early exposure to sexual abuse, promiscuity may be patterned after the behaviour of the sexual abuser or perpetrator.  Those however who develop frigidity or low sexual drive may have difficulty entering into and maintaining close relationships.

Individuals who have been particularly severely sexually abused in their early years may develop Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  BPD is a difficult mental condition to treat and is characterised by maladjusted and immutable personality traits.  People afflicted with BPD often exhibit suicidal symptoms and have the propensity for self-harm, substance abuse, unsafe sex, and the like.

Unfortunately, survivors of childhood sexual abuse may develop both BPD and PTSD which some classify as complex PTSD.  People with complex PTSD may be plagued by extreme mood swings, unexplained physical pain, symptoms that defy medical explanation, and altered states of consciousness.  They may also exhibit other personality disorders characterised by extreme paranoia (Paranoid Personality Disorder); extreme shyness and a huge inferiority complex (Avoidant Personality Disorder); or the extreme need for admiration and lack of empathy (Narcissistic Personality Disorder).

Psychological Effects of Adult Sexual Violence

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Adult victims may develop short-term and long-term psychiatric symptoms.  PTSD symptoms such as sleeping problems, emotional numbness, and panic attacks can show a short time after the traumatic event but may taper off in severity after a few months.  There are, however, survivors that live with PTSD symptoms for years.

Research however has focused mostly on PTSD as the psychological repercussion of adult sexual violence.  Other disorders may be overlooked such as clinical depression; Body Dysmorphic Disorder characterised extreme attention to physical faults; or compulsory body mutilations such as excessive body piercing and tattooing.

How well adult survivors of sexual violence can cope after traumatic events had to do with their belief system used to interpret life experiences.  The more stringent this personal belief system is, the more psychologically distressed the survivor may be.  For instance, a woman who believes that her rape was a result of an outfit that showed more skin than usual, may possess higher degree of self blame and embarrassment.  If the victim also feels she has no control over her recovery or does not realise that she can empower herself against future sexual violence, she may be more mentally distressed than those who believe that the power of recovery lies in their willingness to change their perceptions or outlook for the better.

Sexual Abuse: A Public Health Concern

The psychological consequences of sexually abused people make for a public health problem.  More sexually abused victims increases the population of psychologically impaired citizens.  This has serious ramifications on a country’s social, economic, and physical well-being.  It is imperative to empower sexually abused victims with the psychological tools geared toward allowing them to take control of their emotional healing and recovery of self-worth.

There is no cut-and-dried response treatment to sexual abuse.  People react to abuse in many different ways and degrees, from mild to life-threatening.  Resultant emotions or behaviour may manifest immediately or be significantly delayed and their duration may vary from short-term to one lasting several years.

Psychiatrists however are now more aware of the strong link between abuse and ill mental health so that survivors of sexual abuse or violence may be better identified and referred to the right specialists for treatment.

The Ugly Truth of Domestic Violence

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In a previous article, we have discussed the importance of anger management.  A person must learn to regulate the volatile emotion of anger in order to prevent undesirable offshoots.  Especially for people prone to abuse, one of the fallouts of an unmanageable rage is domestic violence.

Defining Domestic Violence

Under U.K. law, the term domestic violence is no longer simply limited to physical and sexual abuse.  The term now encompasses psychological, financial, and emotional assault.

The new legal definition states:  “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.  The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional”

Domestic violence even falls under a larger umbrella, gender violence.  Gender violence is abuse perpetrated against women and girls, predominantly by men who need to express their power and control by using both natural and societal inequalities inherent in the female gender.  Aside from domestic violence, gender abuse encompasses forced marriages, honour-based abuse, trafficking, female genital mutilation, rape and other sexual assaults, stalking, and harassment.

Although the largest percentage of victims are women and girls,  men and boys do comprise a less but still substantial slice of the victim pie especially in situations where they are part of same-sex partnerships.

U.K.’s New Law on Domestic Violence

infographicAs per the new definition of domestic violence, men who exercise unreasonable financial control over their partners or family members are now eligible for incarceration just as those found to have physically or sexually hurt their dependents or spouses.  This goes the same for individuals who wield their warped sense of power through emotional and psychological abuse.  As an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill, persons convicted of exercising coercive control may face a jail-term of up to 14 years.

The new law is intended to improve the government’s agenda of protection which is hoped to lead to more reported cases and successful prosecutions.

The Stats on Domestic Violence

According to the 2013-2014 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), domestic abuse victims totalled to about 4.6 million females and 2.4 million males.  These figures translate to about 28.3% of the women’s population and 14.7% of the men’s.  Age range of these statistical data cover adults aged 16-59 only.  With these numbers, it is predicted that 1 in 4 women and 1 man in 6 in the U.K. are likely to be victims of domestic abuse in their lifetimes.  What’s more, the reports say that on average, 2 women are killed each week by their partners or ex-partners.

Why Some People Are Prone to Domestic Violence

There is no cut-and-dried demographic where domestic violence chooses to rear its ugly head.  This crime can strike families or couples of any ethnicity, creed, religion, social status, and even sexual orientation.  It is as old as history.

Domestic violence is all about coercion and control often assisted by unmitigated, unresolved anger.  Abusers usually feel the need to dominate their partner and other family members because of any of these following reasons:

  • Extreme jealousy
  • Problems with anger management
  • Low self-esteem
  • An inferiority complex resulting from the partner’s superior education, income, social background, etc.
  • Cultural / Religious belief in women’s gender inequality or children’s status as “properties”
  • A history of being victims themselves of domestic violence or being daily witnesses to domestic abuse.  Usually boys who grow up with abused mothers don’t learn to respect other women.  Girls tend to end up as victims of their partners when exposed to domestic violence in childhood.

Know that domestic violence is not caused by depression, stress, alcohol, or substance abuse.  These factors merely exacerbate violent tendencies.  Domestic abuse is actually a learned intentional behaviour, often witnessed by the perpetrators in their formative childhood or teenage years.

Signs of Maltreatment from Domestic Violence

Victims of domestic violence often go out of their way to hide their misery.  Albeit this being a short list, it is good to be aware of the telltale signs of mistreatment:

  • Physical Symptoms

Common domestic abuse types of injuries are:

  • Rectal or genital injury
  • Injury to the eardrum
  • Abdominal cuts or bruises
  • Broken/loose teeth
  • Facial wounds or fractures
  • Bruises on body, breasts, buttocks, or limbs
  • Bruises or scrapes on the head or neck — site of about 50% of abusive harm
  • Broken/fractured/sprained small finger on the forearm or palm used to block blows to the head or chest
  • Bottoms of feet used to kick out at abuser

Oddly enough, victims who may or may exhibit bruises, wounds, or other physical signs of trauma may complain of medical conditions that do not have any direct underlying cause such as abdominal pain, headache, numbness and tingling, choking sensations, rapid heartbeat, and even urinary tract infection.

  • Mental Health Symptoms
    • Substance abuse
    • Post traumatic stress disorder
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Constant fatigue

A Victim’s Recourse

A victim must realize that he or she has the power to stop being the abused; but it is imperative (even life-saving) that a good, solid plan must be thought out first before concrete actions of escape are carried out.

Gathering information on resources that can help can you plan, execute, and live after the break is vital.  One good resource may be The Survivor’s Handbook by Jackie Barron, a free downloadable PDF file from Women’s Aid providing invaluable information on money, housing, legal rights, etc.

The abuser must never know of your plans as this knowledge may simply intensify the violence.

Some suggestions to incorporate into a safety plan:

  • Avoid alcohol and other mind-altering drugs which impair your capability to protect yourself and your children.
  • Try to avoid arguing in small rooms or in spaces that do not have alternative exits.  Also avoid fights in rooms which house things that can be used as weapons (kitchen, closed garage, etc.)
  • Keep the following in one place and accessible in the event you need to leave your residence urgently:
    • Money, credit and debit cards, check books
    • Important documents such as birth certificates, driver’s license, marriage certificate, mortgage papers, insurance, health records, passports, etc.)  in one place and immediately accessible in the event you need to leave your residence.
    • Prescribed medications and their prescriptions for you and your kids
    • Clothes, a few comfort toys
    • Duplicate set of house, car, and bank keys
    • Contact list of family and friends
    • Contact list of community agencies and resources that can help you
  • Keep in mind doors and windows which may provide good exits for a sudden escape.
  • Tell someone you can trust about the plan.  Enlist their help by telling them to contact the police or other law enforcement agency when they hear anything irregular coming from your house or over the phone.  Agree on a code word to mean “Call the cops.”

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Domestic violence must never be tolerated in our society.  Domestic abuse is a crime and must be reported to proper authorities.  Know that the National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) offers free and speedy injunction services to anyone of any gender, sexual orientation, race, or economic status.  This agency works closely with the police, legal counsels, and other resource groups that help survivors of domestic violence.

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