Sexual abuse, defined as the infliction of sexual contact upon a person by forcible compulsion, can happen to men, women, non-binary, of any age and has become a common phenomenon. It especially goes unnoticed in case of close relationships like that of a couple.
Child sexual abuse is also on a rise and minors are observably more vulnerable to sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse encapsulates any sexual activity between a child/adolescent and an adult, with or without physical touch. Sexual activity between two children with a large gap between them is abuse as well.
At times, many survivors do not realize sexual abuse due to coercion. Sexual coercion happens when made to feel obligated to say “yes” to a sexual activity due to guilt, pressure, drugs/alcohol, or force.
This is evident in many ways, including persistent attempts to have sex with someone, after they have already refused. Sexual abuse as seen has many layers to it. The rape cases have been so much raising that we almost do not talk about cases of abuse and are half the times not aware of it either. It is only when we hear extreme cases of rape, acid attacks, etc that we begin to think and react. According to surveys globally, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys have experienced sexual abuse. In case of transgender, the statistics are not even available!
Understanding the situation of a VICTIM — FREEZE MODE
Stress experts around the world are adding the word freeze to the name “Fight or Flight Mode” in deference to the fact that instead of fighting or fleeing, sometimes we tend to freeze in traumatic situations.
This is exactly how the victims define their state when they face abuse. The words/phrases used by them are “numbness”; “cold”; “stopped struggling”; “couldn’t voice out”; “couldn’t believe”; “stuck at the moment”, etc. These suggest a state of trauma, wherein the odds are so overwhelming that we neither fight nor flee, but freeze.
All of the cases that we have ever heard make us think about the physical attributes of the situation.How it would have happened? What all did the abuser do? How badly the abused is injured? Was any action taken against the abuser? That is pretty much it!
Little do we understand that it is not the end of the problem. The problem begins in socially engaging with people. The problem begins with starting a relationship or even getting back to work. The problem begins with sleeping with a fear of any similar nightmare! The injury here is beyond our sight. The parts of us that feel the most hurt in those moments are dignity, self-esteem, reputation, trust and everything that you gained in your lifetime seems to shatter while you freeze in those moments. The feeling of disgust, unholy,unworthy clouds everything that made you, YOU! That is how devastating it can be and usually is!
Due to the trauma and negative emotions linked to sexual abuse, survivors may be at risk of mental health conditions. Survivors of sexual abuse may develop:
· Anxiety disorders
· Posttraumatic stress (PTSD)
· Personality disruptions like fear of abandonment, insecurity, lower self-worth, and so on.
· Attachment issues may include struggle to intimacy or easily attached to people.
· Addiction to drugs or alcohol is also prevalent in victims of abuse.
· Other than this, they could have fertility issues, chronic pain in bruised areas, physical scars, sexual dysfunction, and other physical conditions depending upon the abuse.
COPING WITH SEXUAL ABUSE-THE FIGHT AND FLIGHT MODE
The most difficult part of coping is acting upon what you just faced. Mostly, people stay in denial, in “frozen” mode. They are embarrassed, disgusted, and filled with self-loathing. You need to be easy on yourself and you need to “flee” out of this zone. This will come from acceptance and believe it was not your fault.
After accepting, you are not at fault, “ACT”. Take steps. Even the slightest step like being outspoken about it requires a great deal of courage and if you can do so, you have begun to act. Ideally, report the crime but removing the legality, realise that when you accept someone is guilty of something that affects so much, you want to see him/her suffer. You want to see them in pain; see them punished; see them realise. It will not stop affecting, but it does bring satisfaction. It will seem hard, but it will be worth it because after that you will definitely feel stronger. Otherwise, they will just feed on your weakness. This is what makes someone more vulnerable to abuse by the same abuser.
Hence, acting upon it includes exposing the abuser; talking about it without disgust, embarrassment; learning to say NO and other little gestures like aggressive eye contact during discomfort in daily routine cases. These little gestures are the key. In case of very close relationships like that of a couple, it can be as little as talking about it adamantly with your partner. The next point might seem debatable, but genuinely it is observable in all those survivors who have “turned over a new leaf!”
Therefore, after acceptance and addressing; acting upon it; comes forgiveness! Yes, forgive! Not for the sake of them, but that’s the first step towards moving on and starting afresh. It is the hardest thing to do but is extremely powerful. Let go. If kept alive for too long, they cause only damages. Forgiveness does not mean not acting upon it, but consider it as a next step after the former steps. Starting afresh becomes hard when you do not forgive. In case of people deeply affected, memories trigger easily.
Memories trigger pain even if you wear same clothes or visit same places. Often distraction advice is given. However, “deal the real deal”. Suppressing is just a temporary escape. It is an act when you see no other solution. In case of real healing, do not suppress. Seek help if needed and visit a psychologist. That is indeed the best gift one can give to oneself.
Helping a loved one overcome this traumatizing situation
Sexual abuse survivors deal with a lot of silencing from the legal system, families, institutional structures and often-emotional trauma, guilt, and shame. Many of the best ways to help and support is to structure around facilitating their voices. In a broader context, one can show the willingness by taking a stand. It is not difficult, though it does require action. Nevertheless, do not feel powerless.
To help someone move over, try knowing more about similar cases and knowing about people’s story of overcoming it through reading or social media. Sensitize about the issue that will help in taking right decisions towards healing them and staying aware and conscious about even your choice of words when talking to them.
Like every problem, help comes from understanding the condition of the person. Creating an environment for them to share and having such frequent discussions for them to let things out is a task in itself. Keep a check on their healing process as much as possible, whether they are not going back to a more vulnerable state.
Make them feel better about themselves and remind them that they have a better version and enough strength to overcome this situation. Motivate them and try this after every conversation related to the event. Remind them about their strengths. Appreciate them for little steps that they take, make them feel as if overcoming is very much achievable. Give them hope and strength about tomorrow, being better than today.
Given the rising stats of sexual abuse, one needs to understand that just making laws around it won’t help, work towards creating a favourable environment for the victim to open up. Talk it out. Seek help. Encourage them to seek help and even see a psychologist. Try to inspire them through relevant anecdotes, movies, novel, songs, write-ups, or even talks from expert speakers and other survivors. Realise it is easier giving advice than following them so go easy and do not expect an instantaneous result. Endurance, patience, understanding, awareness, maturity is at least required. The wrong choice of words, display of thoughts or even judging them indirectly, can affect them. Most importantly, do not abandon or blame them.