Updated: Feb 14
Sexual assault in my opinion is a very controversial topic. Not in the sense that people agree or disagree in its seriousness but rather in the degree of how prevalent discussions and conversations surrounding sexual assault should be in our society. I bet if I asked you to define what exactly sexual assault was, a lot of you would be able to give me an answer that is relatively close to its legal definition. Some of you might even be able to go a step further and recite some facts and statistics surrounding sexual assault. But how many of these facts and statistics would be related to the mental and emotional components of being sexually assaulted?
It seems as if the only time it’s okay talking about sexual assault openly is when you’re talking about it in terms of numbers or facts. Why? Because it’s just easier that way, by choosing an apathetic route towards discussing sexual assault we minimize the risk of potentially offending someone who may feel uncomfortable or have strong opinions surrounding the topic. We also reduce the risk of triggering an emotional response in someone who may have experienced or know someone whose experienced sexual assault first hand. Which is fair, because no one wants to be the source of upsetting someone else, but that’s where the controversy surrounding sexual assault originates. And unfortunately sexual assault can’t be conceptualized through just numbers and facts, because it’s more than that. Sexual assault is a trauma; it’s the infliction of pain and emotional distress not just during the attack but also after. And despite the sexual assault being violent or not, it’s the idea of being stripped of control over your life and being hindered powerless momentarily. And these are only some of the aspects of sexual assault that no one wants to talk about.
You ever see a really bad accident and just look away because it’s too much to handle? Well that’s the attitude a lot of people have adopted in terms of sexual assault. And because of this adopted attitude a lot of conversations surrounding sexual assault are limited to just discussing what constitutes a sexual assault and what you can do to help or get the victim the appropriate help. But what we don’t talk about is the trauma; the emotional distress, the pain, and the injuries associated with being sexually assaulted. And by failing to talk about these aspects we undermine the seriousness of being sexual assaulted. For those who have never been sexually assaulted, if they’re not informed of the impact being sexually assaulted can have on you, not only will they come across as being insensitive to someone who has been sexually assaulted but this behavior will also reinforce the victim to want to remain silent from the fear of being misunderstood.
By continuing to silence certain conversations regarding sexual assault simply because they provoke too much emotion or cause discomfort, we continue to paint a false portrait of what sexual assault really entails. As mentioned earlier, this false portrait translates into sexual assault being viewed as less serious than it really is, causing a lack of relevancy towards the issue in our society. As a result, people who have been sexually assaulted are less inclined to open up about their experiences surrounding the subject, and the lack of relevancy and awareness is reinforced on the basis that it’s not prevalent enough in our society. Furthermore, by not talking about the trauma associated with being sexually assaulted, we set up false beliefs on what it feels like to be sexually assaulted. For a lot of us, when we hear about someone whose been sexually assaulted we think about how that must of been an unfortunate incident, we think about the situation they must have been in that set the stage for the sexual assault to occur in, or we think about who sexually assaulted them. And for the most part, we accept it as being circumstantial and tell ourselves that with the appropriate amount of time the victim will get over it. The victim will get over it … That’s our equivalent of looking away from a bad accident. That’s how we justify not doing more in terms of raising awareness for sexual assault besides discussing facts and numbers. But it’s not our fault, because when we hear that someone has been sexually assaulted what we don’t think about is the emotional distress, we don’t think about the thoughts or feelings the victim must have experienced during and after the abuse, we don’t think about the flashbacks or nightmares the victim probably suffered following the sexual assault, the crying, the screaming, the endless desire to numb the pain, the mental and physical bruises, and the amounts of energy focused towards finding just one single explanation to justify why it happened, why them. We don’t think about the distress because we don’t want to feel any distress, which is one of the biggest driving factors in the lack of awareness that exists surrounding sexual assault.
We need to talk about the mental components that are impacted during a sexual assault not only so we can be more empathetic towards those sexually assaulted, but so we can also validate the different emotions and thoughts the victim is prone to experience during the recovery phase. Often as human beings, when we feel we experienced incidences outside of everyday realms, we choose to remain silent out of fear of being misunderstood or feeling invalidated. Therefore, it’s important to openly talk about the emotional distress being sexually assaulted can trigger in order to make those who have been sexually assaulted feel more comfortable in opening up about their experiences. So we shouldn’t silence topics of sexual assault just because they make us feel uncomfortable and instead talk about them until we successfully normalize conversations surrounding sexual assault. Because if we simply make a shift from discussing sexual assault in terms of facts and numbers, to discussing it in respect to the mental and emotional impact being sexually assaulted has, we could initiate societies to respond to sexual assault with a need for increased awareness, education, and easily accessible resources.
– Harveen, Volunteer