Prior to the discussion on how the heinous act of sexual abuse can leave one scarred in ways that are more than just physical, let’s just focus on the following numbers for a brief minute:
- A report titled ‘Cruel Numbers 2016’ stated that at least 11 children become victims of sexual abuse every day
- Nearly 100 children were murdered after sexual assault in 2016
- The report stated that 2,410 girls and 1,729 boys were sexually abused
- There had been a 10% increase in the number of cases of sexual abuse
- According to a report released by War Against Rape (WAR) four women were raped every day in the country throughout 2014
Keeping those numbers in mind, let’s move forward with the agreement that sexual abuse is a very real problem that has long plagued our society.
Sexual abuse, on paper, is defined as unwanted or undesired sexual behavior from one person’s end to another. Simply put, sexual abuse is a severe form of violation. However, to someone who has been through that form of abuse, it is a scar and a wound that never heals. You read about cases every now and then. Every time you scroll through your timeline, there’s some incident or another that talks about rape followed by murder, or sexual assault followed by victim-blaming. You read the headline and perhaps let out a sigh of disapproval. If you’re really feeling it, you may click on the link, too. And then you carry on with your life, on to the next piece of news.
You’ve got the luxury to treat that bit of information as words on paper or online. Additionally, you have the luxury to treat the statistics as just that – mere numbers; faceless, nameless and lacking an identity. However, for the victims, being sexually abused changes their lives forever. It leaves behind a heavy dose of damage – physical and psychological.
The following are a few manifestations of the damage caused by sexual abuse
Saira Shahbaz*, a 27-year-old school teacher has been consulting a therapist for the past year. Talking to MangoBaaz, she stated:
“I was sexually abused a few years ago by a member from within my family. For years after the repeated assaults, I didn’t understand why I felt so numb and empty. I couldn’t focus on much. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. Eventually, I got into a relationship with a man who is now my husband. He convinced me for a long time to consult a therapist. I eventually gave in and found out that I was suffering from depression. It doesn’t help in eradicating what happened – nothing can do that. It does help knowing what I am up against, though.”
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can result from a traumatic event, such as sexual assault. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the symptoms include:
- Frightening thoughts
- Avoiding places, events or memories that may remind the survivor of the incident
- Being on edge or constantly being tense
Reluctance or unwillingness to be involved in any physical behavior
Victims of sexual abuse may face intimacy issues after the incident. Nabeeha Sohail*, a 23-year-old medical student mentioned how she faces this struggle:
“There was a period of time where I couldn’t even talk to people without feeling anxious. I would have panic attacks before heading out of the house. No one knew about it, but I felt everyone was judging me. I would flinch at every touch and would be extremely uncomfortable if my friends hugged me. It’s a terrible feeling, being uncomfortable around people who you should be able to trust. But it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Not a lot of people know about this. They just assume I don’t like being physical or I’m awkward. Which is fine. I’m grateful to those who understand, though.”
Victims of sexual abuse may resort to self-harm, much like 22-year-old Ameer Ali*
“I was filled with a sense of self-loathing and anger. With no one to turn to, and my best friend telling me that boys don’t get raped, I started to harm myself. It took a lot to come back from that dark pit of self-hatred. I had to realize that what happened was not my fault. Eventually, I had to stop punishing myself.”
Sexual abuse can leave behind very permanent scars in the form of sleeping or eating disorders as well. Other ways in which it can impact the victim’s life is by engulfing the victim in a wave of helplessness overall. The fact that we do not encourage therapy, which is known to be helpful, only worsens the mental state of the survivor. It is imperative that sexual abuse survivors begin to seek professional help for all that they have been through.
It’s high time we acknowledged the fact that this is an issue that long been prevalent in our country. Addressing issues – especially those that are so heinous in nature – can only aid in bettering the conditions of our society. Perhaps we need to start realizing that people are more than just statistics and their bodies are more than just news on our television or phone screens.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
Cover image via: squawker.org