Sexual assault is a serious public and social health issue in the United States of America and the world beyond. The most vulnerable victims of sexual assault by an overwhelming majority are women. On the other hand, men are in most cases the perpetrators of this heinous act. According to the National Survey in the United States, approximately one in five women have experienced sexual assault at some point in their college life. Majority of the victims tend to suffer from men whom they are acquainted. In this regard, there is a minimal chance that women are likely to report an incidence of sexual assault, thus cases of assault end up being under-reported. This research paper therefore investigates the negative consequences of sexual assault on women. The paper gives possible explanations to the causes of sexual assault and reasons why victims fail to file cases on perpetrators to formal support agencies.
The research paper delves into possible ways of alleviating sexual assault by examining a number of procedures through which social service agencies can reach to women suffering from such problems. Moreover, the paper cohesively enumerates on programs that eliminate instances of sexual assault, including programs that enlightens women on the negative consequences of sexual assault in relation to other factors such as uncontrolled drinking of alcohol. Markedly, the research paper investigates the role played by a relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. In addition to this, the paper looks into the continued research and study related to non-consensual sexual intercourse.
Keywords: sexual assault, consent, interventions, perpetrators,
Sexual Assault on Women
Sexual assault is a broad and significant social justice issue. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines sexual assault as an attempted or completed penetration on a woman without their full consent. Similarly, it defines sexual assault as a harassment and abusive sexual contact with a woman without penetration. The same definition also relates to sex trafficking, rape and female genital mutilation. According to the legal definition, sexual assault relates to non-consensual sexual intercourse with the opposite sex. Ideally, efforts to determine whether sexual assault has occurred greatly depend on consent as a key factor. In this respect, the act of sexual assault can only be legal if the victim has not consented towards engaging in sexual intercourse with the perpetrator. Notably, victims of this act fail to give consent due to illness, age, intimidation through physical threat and violence or due to impairment, thus being afraid to object.
Statement of Problem
According to Campbell & Soeken (2009), approximately 80% of all the victims of sexual assault are likely to be women as opposed to previous encounters in which both men and women were victims in equal proportion. Seemingly, sexual assault on women is not a new phenomenon and studies reveal that the rate of sexual assault remains unchanged over the past four decades. For instance, Campbell & Soeken (2009) estimate that 40% of women surveyed at the community and college environment attested to the fact that they experienced sexual assault. Precisely, research suggests that one in fifteen women at college environment have been targets of completed or attempted sexual assault at one point during their study. Further research notes that female students living in the residence halls or dormitories are likely to experience sexual assault as opposed to those living within the community. However, incidents of sexual assault on women, in both the community and college settings remain under-reported with only 9% of the women reporting the act to law enforcement or campus authorities due to barriers such as stigma, fear, and inadequate policies (Campbell & Soeken, 2009).
As Campbell et al. (2008) observe, in the aftermath of sexual assault, the victim normally goes through a painful and extremely difficult experience. Consequently, such experience can result in a lasting negative effect to families, victims, and communities. The negative effects can be social, physical, psychological or related to health risk behaviors.
Sexual assault has social effects on its victims, which includes the following:
- Lack of emotional support from both family and friends
- Reduced possibility of marriage
- Straining to establish a lasting relationship with friends, family, and intimate partners
- Minimal contact with relatives and friends
- Isolation from community
Sexual assault causes more than 35,000 pregnancies every year. Campbell et al. (2008) contend that sexually assaulted victims who end up getting pregnant may suffer from exposure to long-term consequences such as genital injuries, chronic pain, cervical cancer, gynecological complications, sexually transmitted infections, gastrointestinal disorders as well as migraines and other persistent headaches.
Women who fall as victims of sexual assault face both chronic and immediate psychological effects. Immediate psychological effects include:
- Distrust of others
- Post-traumatic stress disorder such as flashbacks, emotional detachment, mental assault, and sleep disturbances
On the other hand, chronic psychological consequences include:
- Generalized anxiety
- Low self-esteem
- Completed suicide
- Avoidance or diminished interest of sex
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Health Risk Behaviors
Victimization of women through sexual assault is associated with a plethora of health risk behavior. Concisely, health risk behaviors due to sexual assault may as well increase an individual’s vulnerability to falling as a victim again in the future. Health risk behaviors include:
- Participating in risky sexual behavior such as choosing unhealthy sexual partners, engaging in unprotected sex, early sexual initiation, and having multiple sex partners
- Engaging in use of harmful substances such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, taking drugs and drunk driving
- Failure to observe safe behaviors such as seat belt use while driving
- Criminal behavior and delinquency
- Unhealthy diet-related behaviors such as overeating, fasting, abuse of diet pills, and vomiting
Post-traumatic stress disorder is one significant problem of great interest. Victims of sexual assault tend to experience feeling of stress, anxiety, and fear. Deatrich & Boyer (2015) note that if such experience becomes extreme and last for more than seven days to an extent, that it interrupts the victim’s day-to-day life, then the condition results in post-traumatic stress disorder. The victims may suffer from a re-experience, a feeling in which an individual relieves the act rough dreams, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts (Deatrich & Boyer, 2015). Additionally, the victim may suffer from avoidance, which involves subconscious or intentional change of behavior to flee from situations associated with the act. Moreover, the victim may suffer from hyper arousal whereby there will be a higher chance of having sleepless nights, feels like one is on the edge, or vulnerable to sudden outbursts.
Factors that increase the risk of men committing sexual assault on women relates to beliefs, attitudes and behaviors arising from social conditions that provide a favorable environment for sexual assault (Abbey & McAuslan, 2008). Using clinical psychological explanation, it is possible to determine the causes of sexual assault on women. Foremost, individualistic behavior such as excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs such as cocaine play a key role in sexual assault. Consumption of alcohol and drugs has a psychopharmacological impact of clouding judgments, reducing inhibition, and impairing the ability of making sound decisions. Ideally, there is a complex biological link between alcohol and assault. Studies on social anthropology of drug abuse enumerate that the connection between drunkenness and assault are socially mimicked rather than universal (Abbey & McAuslan, 2008). Consequently, men tend to act more violently when on drugs and alcohol since they believe they will not be hold accountable for their actions. On that note, there is collective reduction of inhibitions and individual judgment.
Secondly, psychological factors may also contribute to sexual assault. Abbey & McAuslan (2008) assert that men who advance sexual assault on women are more likely to be less knowledgeable about the impact of such act on their victims. Henceforth, such men may lack the inhibitions and tend to misread cues that function to suppress associations between aggression and sex. They are generally motivated by exposure to pornography, which instills coercive sexual fantasies in their mind making them violent towards women. Abbey & McAuslan (2008) assert that adversarial beliefs on gender, which maintains that women are counterparts to be conquered and challenged is a form of psychological factors that results in sexual assault on women. Third, it is worth noting that sexual assault is a learnt behavior in majority of the perpetrators, thus early childhood environment is an evidence to support this fact especially with regard to child sexual assault. Research on sexually abused boys observes that approximately one in six continue to assault women in later life. Therefore, emotionally unsupportive and physically violent childhood environment are associated with sexual violence. Additionally, men brought up in strongly patriarchal structured families are likely to use sexual coercion against women (Abbey & McAuslan, 2008).
The fourth clinical cause of sexual assault is sexual purity and family honor. Even though poverty is always the leading cause for child marriage, preserving the sexual purity of women at a young age and protecting them against unwelcome sexual advance as well as premarital sex are common reasons why families justify such marriages. In most social relationships, families blame women for sexual assault instead of punishing men and this is an effort to restore family honor. This creates an environment in which all forms of sexual violence can easily take place with impunity. Young men rarely succumb to social pressure in order to control them and enlighten them that coercing women for sex is wrong.
Community psychological explanation associate with both societal and community factors such as laws, norms, and national policies governing gender equality and physical and social environment respectively. DeWall & Way (2014) argue that national policies and laws relating to gender sensitivity tend to influence sexual violence. Various countries vary considerably in terms of their approach to sexual assault on women. Some nations have broad definition of sexual assault with far reaching legal procedures and legislation and with heavy repercussion for the perpetrators as well as supportive response to the victims. During police training, there is always a reflection of commitment towards prevention of sexual assault and adequate allocation of resources to curb the problem. Furthermore, creating availability of resources and provision of medico-legal services in support of the victims is always a priority towards cases of sexual assault in most countries. On the contrary, other nations tend to have weak and under-resourced policies to curb the issue. Towards that end, convicting an alleged person relying solely on the evidence of the women is not applicable and certain settings or forms of sexual assault are omitted from the legal definition. As a result, victims of sexual assault in such countries find it impossible to file a case to court out of the fear of receiving punishment for bringing unapproved sexual assault suit.
Concisely, there are few discriminatory practices based on belief systems and rooted in ideologies of male sexual entitlement that gives women minimal legitimate options to turn down sexual advances (DeWall & Way, 2014). Therefore, men tend to ignore the probability of women rejecting their sexual advances or the possibility that women have the right to make an independent decision about engaging in sex. In majority of cultures, both men and women virtually regard marriage as placing the responsibility on women to be sexual available at all times. The prevalence of sexual assault on women associates itself with the societal norms related to the use of violence as means to achieve desires. In this regard, sexual assault is more prevalent in societies and school settings where male superiority is ideological emphasized to give men physical strength, dominance and honor. Similarly, sexual assault on women is highly prevalent in communities where violent conflict takes place or with a culture of violence.
Global economic factors also contribute to sexual violence in one way or the other through an international dimension. For instance, free trade is the current major global trend that results in increased movement of girls and women across the globe for sex work and for labor. International agencies draw up structural adjustments in economic programs, which accentuate unemployment and poverty thereby increasing the possibility if sexual assault and sexual trafficking. The Caribbean, Central America and some parts of Africa are common places where such activity takes place.
Individual approaches such as life skills, education programs, psychological support and care, and other programs for perpetrators are essential clinical alleviation procedures of sexual assault. In the past few decades, several programs for reproductive and sexual health promotion especially those aimed towards the prevention of HIV have facilitated the introduction of gender issues that aim at addressing the challenges associated with sexual assault against women (Watson & Ancis, 2013). For example, the “Men as Partners” and “Stepping Stones” were developed in most parts of the world specifically to be use by peer groups of both men and women. Watson & Ancis (2013) suggest that participatory learning approaches are essential for the delivery of such programs over several workshop sessions. The comprehensive approach assists perpetrators of sexual assault, who might sit back and boycott programs intended to educate on violence against women, to discuss and participate in various issues regarding sexual assault. The programs are however; keen to avoid labeling the perpetrators of sexual assault on women as such.
The effect of the Stepping Stones program in Asia and Africa reveals that men found assistance through participation in the program thereby relating well to women by taking great responsibility for their actions (Watson & Ancis, 2013). Moreover, men developed a higher level of respect and communicated more effectively to women as opposed those that did not participate in such programs. Consequently, such continents were able to achieve a higher reduction rate of sexual violence against women with countries such as South Africa, Cambodia, and Tanzania attesting to this reduction. Nonetheless, there is further research required for evaluation in order to test the effectiveness of this approach adequately since the initial evaluation greatly relied on qualitative methods.
Watson & Ancis (2013) propose that psychological support and care such as therapy, counseling and support group initiatives are significant following sexual assault on women. This is particularly essential in circumstances where there might be complicating factors associated with the process of recovering from the assault or the assault itself. Presumably, a brief administration of cognitive-behavioral program is assumed to hasten the rate of recovery from psychological damage caused by trauma shortly after the assault (Watson & Ancis, 2013). As earlier mentioned, women are sometimes forced to blame themselves for incidences resulting in their assault and thus administration of psychological therapy effectively addresses their plight hence becoming a significant factor for their recovery. However, it is important to note that facilitating further evaluation is considerably crucial while initiating a short-term treatment and counseling programs after the incidence of sexual assault. The non-governmental sector, especially various women’s organizations and sexual crisis centers are providing formal psychological support to victims of sexual assault. Nevertheless, the proportion of victims having access to such services is inevitably small. This implies that establishment of telephone helplines, which are free of charge can possibly extend access to these services. For instance, South Africa has set up a “Stop Woman Abuse” helpline that gave efficient feedback services to over 140,000 calls within the first four months of its operation (Watson & Ancis, 2013).
Other than that, there are some programs aimed at men convicted of sexual assault against women or rather targeting the perpetrators. These programs are in most cases found in developed countries and they focus towards ensuring that perpetrators are accountable as well publicly seen as accountable for their acts. It has been possible to achieve this objective by ensuring that men who advance sexual assault on women collaborate well with campaigns against sexual assault as well as services aimed at offering support to victims.
Community based efforts such as community activism by men and prevention campaigns are community psychological intervention methods that greatly contribute towards the alleviation of sexual assault against women (Katz, 2015). For instance, prevention campaigns like the use of media through advertisement in public transport, on billboards, television, and radio have made a huge attempt to change public attitudes towards sexual assault. The prime-time television series, soul city in South Africa has been used effectively to achieve this objective. The nongovernmental organization Musasa in Zimbabwe has enlightened the public through public meetings, theatre, and debates as well as television series, which has given victims a platform to describe their experience. Furthermore, Canada’s Global Institute referred to as Sisterhood, based in Montreal has initiated a manual suiting the Muslim communities (Katz, 2015). This is geared towards stimulating debate and raising awareness on issues related to violence and gender equality against girls and women. Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon are among the countries that have pilot-tested the manual in an adaptation for the Muslim settings.
Sixteen countries of the Caribbean and Latin America are currently going through the establishment of an interagency initiative to curb gender-based violence by the United Nations. This initiative is designed specifically to establish capacity at the governmental level to implement and build legislation against sexual assault. Its design also aims at raising awareness about social, human and economic costs of sexual assault against women. Other than that, the design establishes strong networks of private and public organizations that carry out programs aimed at preventing sexual violence against women.
Another significant element in curbing sexual assault against women is community activism by men, which essentially a collective initiative by men. Latin America, Australia, Asia and most parts of Europe and North America are common places in which one would find men’s groups against sexual assault and domestic violence. Taking measures towards reduction in the use violence by men is the underlying starting point for this initiative. In essence, the initiative involves typical activities such as education campaigns, group discussions, and rallies, workshops in prisons, schools and workplaces as well as working with violent men (Katz, 2015). Women’s in organizations in collaboration with men’s groups conduct frequent actions involved in providing services to victims of sexual assault and preventing further incidence of sexual assault. The Unites States of America has over 90 men’s groups, most of which aim on sexual assault (Katz, 2015). This includes the “Men Can Stop Rape” group in Washington, which focus on the promotion of alternative forms of masculinity that enhance gender equality and non-violence. The current activities of these groups include the designing of posters, conducting school presentations, publishing youth magazines, and producing a handbook for teachers.
In retrospect, sexual assault is a common and crucial public health problem that negatively affects the lives of millions of citizens every single year across the globe. Sexual assault is mainly facilitated by a plethora of factors that operates in a range of cultural, social and economic contexts. Gender inequality is the main reason behind sexual assault against women. Most countries lack data on critical aspects of sexual violence and there is urgent need for further research on all aspects of sexual assault. The various levels of interventions are of equal importance although the critical ones relate to the primary prevention of sexual assault that targets both men and women in equal measures. In addition to this, these also involve strategies for changing social norms and improve the status of women, measures to make taken to ensure that perpetrators of sexual assault are punished and jailed, and interventions supporting women recovering from sexual assault.
Developing interventions for evaluating programs and rigorously to resource-poor settings in both developing and industrialized nations is vital. Similarly, institutions of learning and health professionals play a key role in supporting women who are vulnerable to sexual assault by offering them both psychological and medical support. This also involves participating in gathering of evidence to prosecute the perpetrators. Besides, the civil society and the government’s strong involvement and commitment and ultimately, proper coordination of responses across a range of sectors are essential in ending sexual assault against women.
References on Sexual Assault in College Essay
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Campbell, R., Greeson, M. R., Bybee, D., & Raja, S. (2008). The co-occurrence of childhood sexual abuse, adult sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and sexual harassment: A mediational model of posttraumatic stress disorder and physical health outcomes. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76(2), 194-207. doi:10.1037/0022-006x.76.2.194
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