THE EFFECTS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND ABUSE

Travis Webb, Licensed Master Social Worker

THE PROBLEM

The psychological, emotional and behavioral repercussions of childhood sexual abuse and assault are not only far reaching, but can be tragically persistent for victims. These effects can vary depending on the circumstantial severity of the abuse, the child's developmental stage, and the resources available to the victim. For children, the immediate symptoms typically begin within the first few years of the abuse. However, research indicates that the negative consequences, including experienced symptoms, of childhood sexual abuse are not restricted to childhood. In many cases these outcomes are carried into adulthood. This type of trauma has a rippling effect that can precipitate dysfunction, disorder and recurrence. The overarching short term and long term symptoms for sexual abuse and assault may include (but are not limited to):

PHYSICAL - Bleeding, bruising, somatic problems (pelvic, gynecologic, gastrointestinal, urologic), sleep disturbances, eating disorders

AFFECT - Fear, depression, anxiety, guilt, loss of self esteem, PTSD, loss of trust, identity confusion, dissociation, regressive behaviors (thumb-sucking or bed-wetting), withdrawal (including non-participation in family, school and social activities)

BEHAVIOR - Substance abuse, suicide, acting out (anger, aggression, defiance, antisocial, delinquency, etc), sexual acting out (including inappropriate sexual behavior, knowledge, and interest), self-abusive behavior, performance problems at school, fear/anxiety regarding relations to the opposite sex and victimization of others.
Children up to age 3 may exhibit:
• Fear or excessive crying
• Vomiting
• Feeding problems
• Bowel problems
• Sleep disturbances
• Failure to thrive

Ages 2 to 9:
• Fear of particular people, places or activities
• Regression to earlier behaviors such as bed wetting or stranger anxiety
• Victimization of others
• Excessive masturbation
• Feelings of shame or guilt
• Nightmares or sleep disturbances
• Withdrawal from family or friends
• Fear of attack recurring
• Eating disturbances

Ages 10 to 17:
• Depression
• Nightmares or sleep disturbances
• Poor school performance
• Promiscuity
• Substance abuse
• Aggression
• Running away from home
• Fear of attack recurring
• Eating disturbances
• Early pregnancy or marriage
• Suicidal gestures
• Anger about being forced into situation beyond one’s control
• Pseudo-mature behavior

THE SOLUTION

The urgency of educating young children on both victim-prevention and offender-prevention is implicit. While females are far more likely to be victims of sexual assault (86%) than males (14%), quite the opposite is true when examining offender data. Nearly all (96%) of the offenders in sexual assaults reported to law enforcement were male. The likelihood of a male committing sexual assault on a victim drastically rises in early adolescence (ages 12-14) near the onset of puberty. In many instances, these young offenders were themselves, victims of sexual abuse at a younger age. If educational resources providing preventative safety information to potential victims and offenders are absent, criminal impulsive sexual behavior will continue to devastate children, families and society.

To be comprehensive in our outreach, the mental and emotional welfare of the program recipients must be a priority for facilitators and educators. Our efforts are both (1) preventive and (2) response-prepared. As indicated, upon certification, teachers are able to provide self-defense and self-advocacy skills to their students. This preventive measure greatly enhances each child’s ability to keep or create a safer environment. Confidence and awareness are building blocks for not only physical safety, but also mental and emotional security.

Inevitably, trainers will be working with students who are victims of sexual abuse. Reports show one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted prior to reaching adulthood. Our motivation to provide children these resources early and consistently throughout adolescence is crucial in that, victims of sexual assault are: 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide. (RAINN). With this program, each school acquires certified trained personnel capable of addressing and assisting students with surfacing mental and emotional fallout.

Schools are given a complete program designed to increase the level of Response-Prepared competency of those trained. Disclosure and subsequent mandated action is a delicate process that requires appropriate efforts of those in position to respond. Relevant modalities and practices are provided in training. Through this certification, schools receive knowledge on liability and obligations set forth in Title IX of the Education Amendments. Having a strong program in the school fulfills the intent of this law. In addition, support systems are identified and collaborated to ensure extensive assistance to both victims and trained staff.