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Sexual abuse has plagued society since the dawn of time. Recently-reported cases of sexual abuse from high-profile individuals have brought discussions of abuse and trauma to the forefront. Despite being more openly discussed, sexual harassment and assault continue to be major problems today, leading many individuals to suffer from long-lasting trauma.
Have you, or someone you care about, been the victim of sexual abuse? Though the past cannot be erased, you can take steps to help yourself and others heal. By extending care and compassion to yourself and others, you can reduce the negative impacts of sexual trauma.
Sexual Harassment and Assault: What Are The Differences?
Defining sexual harassment and assault, and distinguishing the differences between the two, can be difficult. From a legal standpoint, definitions of these terms often vary from region to region. In general, however, sexual harassment is a broader term, defined as unwanted sexual advances ranging from sexual jokes, looks and gestures to physical assault. Unwelcome comments of a sexual nature, the display of sexually explicit materials, or requests for sexual favors are common forms of sexual harassment. Harassment can sometimes be difficult to define. Inappropriate “locker room talk” in the workplace, for instance, could be seen as creating a hostile work environment. In such cases, such comments may fall under the umbrella of sexual harassment.
Sexual assault tends to come in three main forms: exposure, physical contact, or penetrative crimes. Unwanted exposure of, or contact with, the genitalia, buttocks, breasts, or other intimate parts of the body would be considered forms of sexual assault. Penetrative crimes include the penetration of a body part by another body part or an object.
Sexual harassment and assault are offenses that should be taken seriously. Unwanted sexual contact in any shape or form has the potential to harm victims, often leading to lasting trauma.
There’s a good chance that you or someone you love has been the victim of sexual harassment or assault. If so, taking measures to begin healing from the assault may help reduce the lasting effects of trauma.
Healing From Sexual Harassment and Assault
Healing from sexual abuse takes time. If you or someone you know has recently been assaulted, reporting the crime is often the best course of action. If possible, those who have been physically assaulted should seek medical attention and pursue legal action, such as undergoing forensic examinations, using rape kits, and reporting the crime to the police and other relevant authority figures.
Taking steps to heal emotionally from sexual abuse, however, is perhaps the most important way in which victims can care for themselves following an assault. Victims should allow themselves to feel all of their feelings without shame. Anger, fear, grief, and numbness are all common emotions following an assault. Survivors, however, shouldn’t blame themselves for what has happened. Instead, those who have suffered from abuse should treat themselves with compassion.
Opening up to a therapist who specializes in healing from sexual harassment and assault is one of the best ways to process the complex emotions resulting from such trauma. Confiding in trusting and empathetic friends and family members is another ideal way to process complex emotions and foster healing. Unfortunately, studies indicate that nearly a third to one-half of assault victims keep silent about their experiences. Remaining silent, or being silenced by others, has been linked to prolonged trauma and greater emotional suffering. Sadly, it is unsurprising that most victims limit the extent to which they speak about their experiences; research has shown that nearly 80% of abuse victims report being blamed for what has happened to them.
If someone you know confides in you regarding sexual harassment or assault, seek to respond in an empathetic, supportive manner. Don’t blame the individual for what has happened and don’t treat them differently as a result of what they’ve told you. Instead of pitying the victim, simply strive to be compassionate and understanding. Encourage them to take steps to heal, but allow them to respond to the abuse in a way that is comfortable for them. Don’t attempt to rush the healing process by sweeping the situation under the rug, either. Listening and offering to help in any way that you can will show that you truly care.
Those who have suffered from harassment or assault may also wish to process their feelings further on their own. There are a number of books, for instance, that offer physical and mental exercises to help with the healing process. Making a list of potential triggers, as well as a list of sexual acts that are safe and comfortable, can also help victims approach future situations with reduced anxiety and fear. Those who have suffered from assault can also work on strengthening their personal boundaries, allowing themselves to say “no” when they’re uncomfortable in both professional and personal contexts. Setting firm limits with others can restore victims’ self-confidence and feelings of personal security.
Healing should also involve feeling good, too. Practicing self-care, for instance, is a great way to show compassion towards the self. Engaging in a favorite hobby, exercising, or simply watching a funny film are all simple ways one can relax and validate one’s worth as a multi-faceted individual. Though it may take time, those who have suffered from assault should encourage themselves to pursue physical pleasure again, too. Treating one’s body kindly and seeking pleasure through solo or partnered sex are excellent ways to become reacquainted with the joys of healthy sexual contact.
Ideally, healing from sexual trauma should involve processing complex feelings both on one’s own and with others. Confiding in a professional, as well as other compassionate individuals in one’s life, is better than trying to process trauma alone. Though it may be difficult, reaching out for help is often the best way to begin the healing process. Through self-care and the support of others, the detrimental effects of assault can ultimately be minimized, leading to a brighter future.
Healing from sexual abuse is almost always challenging. One can do all of the “right” things and still experience triggering situations and setbacks. Sexual trauma isn’t something that one simply forgets. Even those who have thoroughly processed their trauma may still experience triggering moments during their lifetimes. Those who have suffered from harassment or assault, however, should remind themselves that they aren’t “broken” individuals. No matter what you have experienced, you are a whole person, deserving of a great life filled with happy experiences. By treating yourself lovingly and surrounding yourself with individuals who support you and affirm your sense of self-worth, you can ultimately heal.
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