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"Empowering Survivors: Confronting Sexual Violence and Breaking the Silence"

Sexual violence represents a deeply damaging and traumatic experience that profoundly impacts individuals, regardless of their gender, leading to extensive psychological and social repercussions. It induces feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, undermining self-esteem and fostering a sense of vulnerability to future harm. Particularly for women, the fear of sexual violence can constrain their freedom and professional prospects, significantly impacting their overall psychological health in the long term.

An Abused Victim
Sexual Violence

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual violence as “any sexual act or an attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments, or advances, acts to traffic or otherwise directed, against a person's sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.”.


Adolescents face a heightened vulnerability to sexual assault compared to other age demographics. This increases even more so for those navigating various forms of disability, which can significantly raise a person’s level of vulnerability. This stage of development  coincides with the onset of mental health issues and pivotal moments which can increase stress such as academic exams and future career path choices.Studies reveal that teenagers who experience sexual assault are susceptible to mental health disorders and academic underperformance, with this heightened risk persisting for over a year. Nevertheless, there remains a gap in understanding the enduring effects of assault on teenagers' mental well-being and educational outcomes regardless of the victim’s gender.


Sexual violence occurs across diverse cultures, each with its own interpretations of what qualifies as such behavior. Culture significantly influences how different communities and societies perceive and interpret sexual acts and violence. For instance, in South Africa, during apartheid, prosecution for rape primarily targeted assaults on white women, while sexual violence against black women was often normalized. In certain rural areas of India, early marriages entail unions and sexual relations involving girls who have not yet reached adulthood.While some of these practices are no longer the norm, there are still areas of the world that do not recognise sexual violence, assault and victim rights to the degree and magnitude that we do here in Canada.


A widely held and oversimplified misconception suggests that sexual violence is often incited by an attractive, provocatively dressed woman who is alone at night, thus prompting a man to commit the act. This erroneous belief unfairly places full blame on the victim, exacerbating her victimization and completing dismissing male victims. However, considering the prevalence of acquaintance rape over stranger rape and the unfortunate reality that even young persons can fall victim to sexual violence, it becomes evident that the notion that only young, attractive, and provocatively dressed individuals are targeted is simply a myth. The perceived or actual vulnerability of the victim holds far greater significance than their attire or physical appearance.


Impact on Victims

Adolescents who have experienced sexual assault are recognized to have a heightened probability compared to their counterparts of developing mental health issues shortly following the assault, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, they are more prone to experiencing academic underperformance, engaging in early or multiple sexual relationships, and encountering difficulties in relationships with friends, family, or partners. The most common problems they face in future are :


  1. Mental Health Problems: Researches have proved that teenagers with a history of sexual assault had post -traumatic stress symptoms (72.01%), had depressive symptoms ( 89%) had anxiety for about 76%.

  2. Physical Symptoms: Stomach pain and head aches were frequent among the victims after the sexual assault . poor sleep was reported by 87% of the victims , changes in appetite were observed in 75% of the teenagers.

  3. Self-Harm: Some individuals may engage in cutting or other forms of self-injury as a means of expressing and releasing the emotional pain they feel. Whereas others tend to alcohol or drug misuse  as a way to numb the pain and memories associated with the traumatic experience of sexual threat. Withdrawing from social interactions and relationships is also observed among the victims.

  4. Disrupted Education due to long absence from school is observed among the sexual victims.Mental health conditions (such as anxiety and depression) and sleep problems caused them to miss school and made schoolwork difficult. Teenagers described a vicious circle: mental health conditions led to school absences, that caused stress and made mental health problems worse.


How can we stop Sexual Violence:

At School

  • Keep a young person safe at school without isolating them.

  • Disclose sexual assault to social care or parents in a way that gives the young person a feeling of control over their confidentiality.

  • Manage the behavior of someone traumatized by an assault. Schools need better support to achieve these aims and to handle sexual assault.


At Workplace :

Sexual violence in the workplace constitutes a grave concern and affects all individuals within the work environment. The employer bears the responsibility for acknowledging and addressing instances of workplace sexual violence. Such behavior not only infringes upon human rights but also violates an individual's legal entitlement to a safe and secure work environment.


Community Organisations

There are organisations like People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), Rape crisis, Masimanyane Women’s Rights International,The Rural Development Support Program (RDSP) and TEARS foundation  world wide which help with fighting against sexual violence in children and women . In canada, we have Organisations like Association of Alberta sexual assault services  were violence against children and women are heard and action is being taken.


Conclusion:

Absolutely, sexual violence is a grave violation of human rights and dignity with far-reaching consequences. It not only inflicts direct harm upon its victims but also undermines the fundamental principles of freedom, autonomy, and safety for all individuals. The impact of sexual violence extends beyond the immediate victims, affecting families, communities, and societies as a whole.


In societies where shame and stigma are pervasive, victims may feel silenced or afraid to come forward about their experiences. This silence can perpetuate cycles of abuse and prevent victims from accessing the support and justice they deserve. It's essential to create environments where survivors feel safe and supported in seeking help and speaking out against sexual violence.


Moreover, addressing sexual violence requires a collective effort that transcends national and cultural boundaries. By acknowledging the universality of this issue, we can work towards implementing effective prevention strategies, supporting survivors, and holding perpetrators accountable. This includes challenging harmful attitudes and norms that perpetuate violence and promoting education and awareness about consent, respect, and gender equality.


Ignoring the issue of sexual violence only perpetuates harm and allows it to persist. It's imperative that we confront this issue head-on, recognize its pervasive impact, and take meaningful action to create a world free from sexual violence for all individuals.

 

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