According to the U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey – there is an average of 207,754 rape and sexual assault victims (ages 12 and older) each year. This means every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is a victim of sexual assault.
Even though the survey reflects rape has decreased by 60% since 1993, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), sexual assault remains one of the most under reported crimes, with 54% not reported to officials.
One out of six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape during her lifetime and computes to 17.7 million American women, with nine out of ten rape victims being female.
Girls ages 16 – 19 are four times likely to victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault and approximately 93% of sexual assault victims know their attackers.
· 34.2% of attackers were family members
· 58.7% were acquaintances
· 7% were strangers
Sexual Assaults Defined
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, in many state statutes, the term sexual assault has replaced the term rape and intended to be gender-inclusive and include various types of sexual crimes. Sexual assault now includes rape, attempted rape or any form of unwanted sexual contact, even threats. Any unwanted or forced sexual act to include intercourse, sodomy, oral penetration, incest, fondling, and child molestation are included and defined as sexual assaults on minors or adults. Non-consenting sexual assault also includes someone who is developmentally disabled, or chronically ill or drugged.
Perpetrators who commit sexual assaults can be strangers, family members, friends, or acquaintances. Experts at manipulation, sexual predators use various tactics like intimidation, manipulation, threats, trickery, and violence. Some go to great lengths to win the trust of their targeted victims by offering gifts, money and favors while attempting to convince the victim they truly care for them, commonly referred to as ‘grooming’ the victim. They may also use the same to convince the victim not to tell but many also threaten to harm the victims or their family and friends, threaten to tell others or post information including photos on the Internet, send threatening text messages, or repeated calls harassing the victim.
Regardless of the circumstances, sexual assault can be life altering for victims and anyone closely associated with them.Perpetrators who commit sexual assaults can be strangers, family members, friends, or acquaintances who utilize various tactics like intimidation, manipulations, threats, trickery, and violence. Sexual abuse, sodomy, lascivious acts, indecent exposure, sexual misconduct, or a sexual behavior that uses force, scares, intimidates or makes one feel uncomfortable. Non-consent also includes someone who is developmentally disabled, chronically ill, drugged, and minors.
Perpetrators are experts at manipulation and abuse of power. Some go to great lengths to win the trust of their targeted victims by offering gifts, money and favors while attempting to convince the victim they truly care for them, commonly referred to as ‘grooming’ the victim. They may also use the same to convince the victim not to tell but many also threaten to harm the victims or their family and friends, threaten to tell others or post information including photos on the Internet, send threatening text messages, or repeated calls harassing the victim.
Regardless of the circumstances, sexual assault can be life altering for victims and anyone closely associated with them.
The aftermath of sexual assault
Many reasons contribute to sexual assault victim not reporting crimes to police. In the aftermath of sexual assault victims who report the assault to police then go through lengthy and intrusive interviews describing detail of the incident, forensic physical exams, and the torture of waiting for pregnancy and HIV test results. For a child this can be an extremely overwhelming experience.
Many victims are afraid to come forward and tell someone because others may harshly judge them. Victims who do report a rape, especially teens, often become the victims of savage personal attacks within social circles. Along with fearing social judgment and associated stigmas, having been raped is damaging to one’s self-esteem and ability to appropriately deal with feelings of guilt or shame.
It is normal for victims of sexual assault to feel angry and ashamed, and to experience humiliation and self-blame. If the perpetrator is someone the victim knew, serious issues of violation of trust commonly develop affecting the individual’s ability to develop socially and intimately with others.
Many factors can prevent victims from reporting a sexual assault. It is hard for the common person to imagine what it would be like to live in constant fear. Victims have a tendency to feel terrified and in fear for their lives following sexual assault and fear retaliation, especially if the perpetrator threatened to harm them or their family at any time prior, during or following the traumatic event.
Facing a perpetrator and lengthy court process can cause a victim to feel re-victimized while forced to recall the experience can be overwhelming for the victim. The court process can take months, even years, forcing the victim to retell their story multiple times to various individuals within the legal system.
Crime affects the victim but also family members. Crime victims must deal with the physical and emotional trauma and affects everyone in the household. For families experiencing financial stress it can be equally devastating as it can deteriorate the family core and removes any feeling of security, already having been violated. Along with the emotional turmoil common in the aftermath of crime, costs of medical care, counseling, relocation, and lost wages add to the difficulties.
Physical and Psychological Effects
Everyone reacts differently to trauma. There are many psychological and neurobiological implications of sexual violent trauma considered long lasting. Victims of sexual assault can suffer physical, emotional, and psychological effects ranging from pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and headaches to fear, major depression, social withdrawal, anger, eating disorders, and self-mutilation. Sexual assault victims are also at risk to develop serious psychological disorders and experience suicidal ideations. Rape victims are 13 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who have not been a victim of a crime.
When severe trauma is experienced, victims can suffer the devastation and often debilitating long-lasting physiological effects associated with rape related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (RR-PTSD). An estimated one third of all victims of sexual assault will develop RR-PTSD. Developing RR-PTSD can create a range of psychological distress, flashbacks, nightmares, fear, emotional numbness, anger, anxiety related conditions, obsessive thoughts, depression and cause victims to feel isolated. Some choose isolation as a way to cope and avoidance becomes a protective method of coping.
RR-PTSD diagnosis is made when the psychological, biological and social effects of severe trauma impairs social and occupational functioning caused by physiological changes in the brain that can become a permanent condition.
The long-term social effect of sexual assault and abuse
Sexual assault and abuse does not discriminate. It occurs within every socioeconomic class, religion, cultural and educational levels in society.
Children and teens who have been victims of sexual assault or abuse are at high risk of developing other behaviors that ultimately place them at higher risk within society. According to Childhelp Arizona the following statistical data reflects the damaging long-term effects of trauma in children’s lives.
· 25% are more likely to experience teen pregnancy
· 59% are more likely to be arrested as juveniles
· 30% are more likely to commit a violent crime
· 25% are more likely to experience delinquency and drug use
· 28% are more likely to be arrested as adults
“As a nation we can no longer turn a blind eye to child sexual abuse and what the victims go through in the aftermath of trauma, including their families,” say Christel Horn, who formerly worked in the Child and Family Protection Division/Protective Services Section at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. “It’s time we face this head on, encourage victims to report to police and ensure appropriate services are available so they do face this alone.”
If you are an Arizona crime victim, please visit the following websites for information and services that may be available to you.
Childhelp Arizona www.childhelp.org
Arizona Sexual Assault Network www.ceaseaz.org
Arizona Attorney General Victim Services www.attorneygeneral.state.az.us/victims_rights
Arizona Voice for Victims www.voiceforvictims.org
Arizona Criminal Justice Commission www.acjc.state.az.us/
Arizona Coalition for Victim Services www.azcvs.net