By Luke Dalfiume, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Co-Owner, John R. Day & Associates, Christian Psychological Associates
Sexual abuse and sexual assault essentially refer to the same behaviors. However, sexual abuse is often used to refer to sexual behavior against a child by a much older child, adolescent, or adult. Sexual assault is often used to refer to unwanted sexual behavior against an adolescent or adult by another adolescent or adult.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, among known child maltreatment cases, about nine percent involve sexual abuse. Of these, 26 percent are 12-14 years of age and 34 percent younger than nine. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.
Only about 30 percent of sexual assaults are reported to authorities. Only 25 percent of sexual assaults/rapes were by a stranger. Among women, 18 percent have been raped during their lifetimes. Early rape experience appears to predispose one to later rape experience. About 35 percent of women who were raped as children were also raped as adults, compared with 14 percent of women who were not raped as children but who were raped as adults.
There are several factors that are important in any case involving sexual abuse or sexual assault:
- One is that the person against whom the act was perpetrated should be believed. In my clinical experience I have encountered numerous where the behavior was minimized or it was communicated to the subject of the abuse that they had somehow asked for the abuse or should have known they would be abused.
- They should be brought for a medical evaluation or encouraged to do so as soon as possible. The reasons for this are two-fold: to address any physical injuries but also to gather forensic evidence linking the perpetrator to the behavior.
- They should be protected from further abuse.
- They should be brought to psychotherapy (or encouraged to go, if they are an adult) as quickly as possible. With any kind of significant trauma, including sexual abuse and sexual assault, the sooner a person receives treatment and is able to “work through” what happened, the less severe the long-term effects of the trauma are likely to be. It is not that the trauma will be forgotten, but rather, in the process of being heard and understood and thinking about the trauma, the person is able to gain a greater sense of cognitive and emotional control, sorting through the experience and, as I like to tell people, ultimately “putting it on the shelf,” rather than having it be like an “open book” emotionally. It is not forgotten, but the power of the trauma can be dramatically reduced.
- People vary in the time it takes to regain their emotional balance following a trauma. This is dependent on a number of variables, including the severity of the trauma, the history of traumas experienced, how quickly treatment was sought out, and personality variables. There is no set number of weeks, months, or years after which a person should be expected to be in a good place emotionally following a trauma. Patience and understanding are essential for those supporting a person who has experienced trauma. It should not be expected that the person will get to a point where they seem permanently unaffected by what happened.
For more information or to book an appointment, contact John R. Day & Associates, Christian Psychological Associates, located at 3716 West Brighton Ave., Peoria or their additional locations in Normal, Canton, Pekin, Princeton, or Eureka. Call us at 309-692-7755 or visit us online at www.christianpsychological.org.