Effects of and Resources for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Locally, there are many support systems for victims of sexual assault

  This April is the 22nd official anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In the United States, movements against sexual assault started in the civil rights area around the 1940s. Unsurprisingly, the first people recognized for taking action on sexual assault were women of color. Eventually, because they stood up and had the guts no one else did, the president at the time, Bill Clinton, passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, which provided funding for investigations of violent crimes against women (NWA Center for Sexual Assault). This was the first time in history that sexual assault was seen as a legal problem rather than a personal problem. Now, in 2023, there are tons of resources and information about it and how to deal with the aftermath.

  “A couple of local resources that we have in Traverse City are the Women’s Resource Center and the Children’s Advocacy Center,” counselor Melissa Kamm said. 

  The age, race, gender and sexual orientation of the victim does not matter regarding sexual assault. Predators affect every community, although 90 percent of adult rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault are female. In recent times, people have become aware of the alarming fact that females aged 16 to 19 are four times more likely to be assaulted (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). In addition, people from historically oppressed groups are also more likely to be attacked. There are many reasons why it’s a very hard process victims to go through after a sexual assault experience.

  “The predator is someone they know and trust and probably care about and love which makes it extra hard because victims often feel like they did something wrong,” librarian Genevieve Minor said. 

  Because the predator is most likely someone the victim knows, the situation is expected to be very conflicting. It is tough for most to reconcile the mixed feelings between a loved one and such a horrific act. Family and friends will likely tell a survivor how horrible the person is, and it can become highly confusing when they still love and care for the person. 

  “I definitely think [sexual assault] has a big effect. I think it would cause a lot of anxiety and depression just like all sorts of mental health issues that ultimately affect your whole life,” junior Ava King said. 

  Sexual assault is a severe health problem in the U.S. that harshly impacts the well-being and lifelong health of victims. Everyone reacts to traumatic experiences differently. Individuals could feel guilt, shame, anxiety, fear, shock, numbness, sadness, withdrawal and isolation. Most survivors have difficulty sleeping, nightmares, difficulty concentrating and feeling on edge (National Sexual Violence Resource Center). Other consequences can include reproductive, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and sexual health problems and PTSD (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The PTSD that almost always follows after a sexual assault incident affects not only the victim’s mental health and body, but their everyday life. For example, it can impact employment because of weakened performance, availability or simply the inability to work. 

  Sometimes there is just no knowing of what’s coming, but it is essential to know the signs for identifying a situation or victim. Survivors may keep their encounters to themselves because of fear, guilt or threats. When checking up on loved ones, watching their behavior changes, such as social withdrawal, loss of interest in usual hobbies, lack of concentration and unexplained absences, is essential. The most noticeable warning signs to look for are complaints about soreness, pain or trouble sleeping (National Sexual Violence Resource Center). 

  “[Something to look for in possible victims of sexual assault is a] change in behavior, and that could be anything. So maybe somebody who is normally confident maybe becomes reserved and shut down, maybe somebody that’s shy becomes more outgoing and kinda seeks more attention, or changes in attendance too,” Minor said.

  Sexual assault is proven to cause trauma, an intense experience that causes overwhelming emotional and psychological stress. Communities needs to be aware of everything they can do to help prevent these awful experiences and feelings that come after. It is not something to be taken lightly, and if anyone around has dealt with it, it’s crucial to reach out and get help locally or contact the national sexual assault hotline at 800-656-HOPE.