April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month
The month of April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the United States. The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. Each day people witness a continuum of behaviors that range from being respectful and safe, to sexually abusive and violent.
Sexual violence occurs whenever a person is forced, coerced and/or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity, including when he/she is unable to consent due to age, illness, disability or the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Sexual violence includes rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, non-stranger rape, statutory rape, marital or partner rape, sexual exploitation, sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure and voyeurism. It is a crime not typically motivated by sexual desire, but by the desire to control, humiliate and/or harm.
Sexual violence can violate a person’s trust and feeling of safety. It can, and does, happen to people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, professions, incomes and ethnicities. Sexual violence affects all of us: survivors, significant others, communities and society.
Impact on the Survivor
Each survivor reacts to sexual violence in his/her own unique way. Personal style, culture and context of the survivor’s life may affect these reactions. Some express their emotions while others prefer to keep their feelings inside. Some may tell others right away what happened, others will wait weeks, months or even years before discussing the assault, if they ever choose to do so. It is important to respect each person’s choices and style of coping with this traumatic event.
Whether an assault was completed or attempted, and regardless of whether it happened recently or many years ago, it may impact daily functioning. A wide range of reactions can impact victims. Some common emotional, psychological and physical reactions follow:
• Guilt, shame, self-blame
• Fear, distrust
• Lack of control
• Shock, disbelief
• Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
• Increased startle response
• Concerns about physical safety
• Physical injury
• Concerns about pregnancy or contracting a sexually-transmitted disease or HIV
• Difficulty concentrating
• Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• Eating disorders
• Substance use or abuse
Impact on Significant Others
Sexual violence can affect parents, friends, partners, children, spouses and/or co-workers of the survivor. As they try to make sense of what happened, significant others may experience similar reactions and feelings to those of the survivor. Fear, guilt, self-blame and anger are but a few reactions they may experience.
In order to best support the survivor, it is important for those close to them to get support. Local social services providers offer free confidential services to women, men and children who have been affected by sexual violence. This can include advocacy-based counseling in an individual, family or group setting; information and referral services; and 24-hour crisis intervention assistance. Work and Wellness EAP can provide and connection you to these resources.
For additional assistance with personal or work issues, contact Agnesian HealthCare’s Work and Wellness Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at (800) 458-8183.