In honour of Abuse Awareness Month, I thought to write a short FAQ page to introduce the topic of sexual assault and to eliminate some misconceptions surrounding it.
Of course I know what sexual abuse is. I have a TV.
People generally understand the basic sense of sexual abuse. It’s where a person is coerced or physically forced to engage in an involuntary sexual act against their will. The problem is that the most people think that for something to be categorized as sexual abuse, the physical act of non-consensual sex has to happen. But that’s just a piece of the puzzle.
It’s when that boy at a party kisses you inappropriately when you don’t want to. It’s when a girl at work constantly makes sexual comments or suggestions to you or sends you sexual texts that make you uncomfortable. It’s when someone watches you shower or changing without your knowledge. It’s whenever someone makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. No questions asked.
Misconception: Victims feel bad. What do I mean by bad? Just not good.
The effects vary but the overarching emotion is usually a feeling of lack of control. They weren’t able to control the situation when they were abused and that results in a lack of trust in their relationships as well. Victims can go through poor self-esteem, post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by their environment, and nightmares. They usually have a vast array of emotions from fear, anger towards themselves and the abuser, isolation from those around you, guilt, and confusion about what to think and who to trust.
It’s important that people do not judge the victim if he/she decides to disclose information about the abuse. It takes a lot for a victim to come forward so those trusted enough should be extremely supportive and help he/she come to terms with what has happened.
Questions victims constantly ask themselves:
- What if I felt like I enjoyed it?
Victims tend to worry because their bodies appeared to be sexually aroused by the situation even though they did not consent to it. This is just your body’s way of coping with the situation and does not in any way mean you wanted or enjoyed the abuse.
- Will I become an abuser too?
The link between being a sexual abuse victim and becoming an abuser yourself is not proven and there is no reason to believe so. You have control over you own life and can make choices on what is right for you.
- Does this mean I am homosexual?
If a victim is abused by someone of the same sex, there is usually worry that they will become sexually attracted to the same sex. Being sexually abused by the same sex is not at all linked to being attracted to them. Any type of relationship is about love and forming positive connections, and a same-sex relationship is not excluded from this. Sexual assault is an abuse of power; it is not about love or sex. It does not have any effect on your sexual orientation.
Ahhh!! My friend just told me that he/she was sexually abused. What do I do??
First acknowledge their courage for surviving and for talking to you – it is not an easy thing to do. Many people don’t come forward because they feel like no one will believe them so make sure they know you believe them. Listen to them and encourage them to seek support – but don’t pressure them. Be open to helping them but don’t put pressure on yourself to come up with miraculous solutions.
Above all, don’t tell other friends in your group. This isn’t one of those “I pinky promise not to tell anyone (except my best friends of course)” secrets. This is serious and you should treat it with the gravity it deserves.
I hope this answered some basic questions and cleared some misconceptions about sexual abuse. As the stigma around it lessens, let’s work to educate ourselves and reduce the cases of sexual abuse in our communities.