Last week, we started the series ‘THE UNTOLD STORY’ which centers on abuse and all its debilitating effects. Today, we would be looking at another broad topic, SEXUAL ABUSE.
Usually when people hear sexual abuse, especially when it involves two adults, it is a vague scene to imagine and many may find themselves passing judgement on the victim for one reason or the other. I once heard someone say it is impossible for a guy to be raped by a woman because
he has to have an erection and be sexually aroused, meaning he wants it to an extent. I’ve also heard people say that most female sexual abuse victims provoke their abusers through dressing or speech and therefore, somewhat deserved what they got. Nobody deserves to be abused whether or not they “invited it”.
Personally, I believe that forcefully engaging someone in unconsented sexual activity is the second most dreadful crime against humanity- second only to murder. In my own opinion, there is nothing more humiliating than that.
Before we proceed to our main discussion for the day, let us quickly go through some definitions.
What is sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is forcing of undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another. If this action is short lived or infrequent, it is called an assault. Sexual assault can include any type of sexual contact with someone who cannot consent such as someone who is underage, has an intellectual disability, or is passed out. It includes;
- Attempted rape
- Sexual coercion
- Sexual contact with a child
- Incest (sexual contact between family members)
- Fondling or unwanted touching above or under clothes
Sexual assault can also be verbal or visual. It is anything that forces a person to participate in unwanted sexual contact or attention. Examples can include;
- Voyeurism or peeping (when someone watches private sexual acts without consent)
- Exhibitionism (when someone exposes himself or herself in public)
- Sexual harassment or threats
- Forcing someone to pose for sexual pictures
What is consent?
Consent is a clear “yes” to sexual activity. Not saying “no” does not mean you have given consent. Consent is an ongoing process, not a one-time question and past consent does not mean future consent. Also, saying yes to a sexual activity is not consent for all types of sexual activities. Silence doesn’t mean she or he is saying “yes”. Being married, dating or having had sexual contact with someone before does not mean that there is consent now. Lastly, not putting up a physical fight does not mean that there is consent.
How common is sexual abuse?
More than 23 million women in the United States have been raped. Most of whom were younger than 25 when the rape happened and almost half of the female rape victims were under the age of 18. Also, about 2 million men in the United States have been raped. Lesbians and bisexual women have higher rates of sexual violence by a partner than heterosexual women. In Nigeria, due to poor documentation and the stigmatization that comes with open admission of sexual abuse or rape, Nigeria has recorded only 18 rape convictions in its legal history.
Forms of sexual abuse
- Spousal sexual abuse: This is a form of domestic violence. When the abuse involves forced sex, it may constitute rape upon the other spouse and depending on the jurisdiction, it may also constitute an assault.
- Child sexual abuse: Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse in which a child is abused for the sexual gratification of an adult or older adolescent. It includes direct sexual contact, the adult or otherwise older person engaging in indecent exposure (of the genitals, female nipples, etc.) to a child with intent to gratify their own sexual desires or to intimidate or groom the child, asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual activities, displaying pornography to a child, or using a child to produce child pornography.
- Abuse of people with developmental disabilities: People with developmental disabilities are often victims of sexual abuse however most of these cases go unnoticed.
Who are the victims of sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse can happen to anyone regardless of age, race or ethnicity, religion, ability, appearance, sexual orientation or gender identity. However, women have higher rates of sexual assault than men. And also, children are at a higher risk due to their vulnerability. Sometimes, they may not even know that what is going on is wrong.
Who are the abusers?
Sometimes, sexual abuse is committed by a stranger but more often than not, it is by someone you know. It could be a friend, an acquaintance, relative, date or even your partner. Both women and men commit sexual assault, but nearly 99% of all people who are reported for sexual assault are men. The majority of sexual assault victims know the person who assaulted them.
Are there long term effects of sexual abuse?
Yes, sexual abuse can have long-term health effects. People who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to report;
• Frequent headaches
• Long-term pain
• Trouble sleeping
• Poor physical and mental health
Other health effects can include:
• Severe anxiety, stress, or fear
• Abuse of alcohol or drugs
• Eating disorders
• Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
• Self-injury or suicide
How can I reduce my risk of being sexually assaulted?
You cannot always prevent sexual assault. If you are assaulted or you find yourself in a situation that feels unsafe, it is not your fault. However, you can take steps to help stay safe in general.
- Go to parties or gatherings with friends. Arrive together, check in with each other, and leave together. Talk about your plans for the evening so that everyone knows what to expect.
Look out for your friends, and ask them to look out for you. If a friend seems out of it, is way too drunk for the amount of alcohol she’s had, is acting out of character, or seems too drunk to stay safe in general, get her to a safe place. Ask your friends to do the same for you.
Know your limits when using alcohol or drugs. Don’t let anyone pressure you into drinking or doing more than you want to.
- Trust your instincts. If you find yourself alone with someone you don’t know or trust, leave. If you feel uncomfortable in any situation for any reason, leave. You are the only person who gets to say whether you feel safe.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Especially if walking alone, avoid talking on your phone or listening to music with headphones. Stay in busy, well-lit areas, especially at night.
Have you been sexually assaulted?
The Nigerian Senate in May 2015 passed the Sexual Offenses Bill which sentences anyone found guilty of rape or gang rape to life imprisonment, with incest and child pornography carrying 10 year sentences. Despite these stiff penalties, rape and sexual assault are so stigmatized in our society that many survivors simply do not bring themselves to report cases to authorities.
The disruptive nature of rape and sexual assault means that both medical treatment and psycho-social counseling are critical for survivors. There are very few organizations around the country which support and advocate for survivors, including the Project Alert on Violence Against Women, Stop Rape Now Org, and the Domestic Violence and Abuse Resource Center.
What do you do if a victim confides in you?
- Be open
- Do not judge
- Keep it confidential
- Assist him or her in seeking help. The following are help lines in Nigeria. 08165770000; 07013491769; 08187243468; 08125152683; 01-2957816.
- Have dignity and respect
- Respect their decision
- Support victim through out the process
SAY NO TO SEXUAL ABUSE! And remember #itisnotokaytokeepquiet!
Watch out for next week’s post…