I just received a link to a really important article on the topic of sexual violence against women and how it can affect sexual health behaviors. Some people find the topic of sexual assault triggering, so I ask you to take care of yourself around that before reading this.
The paper “Sexual Violence Against Women: Impact on High-Risk Health Behaviors and Reproductive Health” (click on the title for a brief overview and links to the html and pdf versions of the full article) summarizes the current research on the ways in which sexual assault affects a range of sexual health behaviors and outcomes for women. Having been a rape crisis intervention counselor with Bay Area Women Against Rape, none of the information in general surprised me. But seeing it all in one place really brings it home.
Please note- all of this information is on a statistical level. There’s no way to predict how sexual assault will affect a particular individual. Cause and effect for individuals is a tricky thing to pin down and I’m absolutely not suggesting that this research tells us anything about any single person’s experience.
So with that disclaimer, sexual assault leads to an increase in substance use, unsafe sexual behaviors (e.g. not using condoms, trading sex for money/drugs, etc.), sexually transmitted infections, and reproductive health issues such as higher probabilities of experiencing dysmenorrhea (severe pain during menstruation that limits activities), menorrhagia (excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding), and sexual dysfunction.
Further, at least one study compared sexual assault survivors with car crash survivors to see if non-sexual trauma had a similar effect. The researchers found that sexual assault survivors reported more alcohol use, but the traumatized car crash survivors said they used less alcohol afterward. That would indicate that trauma in general may not be the cause as much as sexual trauma. The article also has some useful suggestions for service providers around supporting survivors.
Sexual assault is much, much too common in our world. And we need to stop it. From an ethical perspective, from a social justice perspective, and from a sexual health perspective- we need to make some changes. If you’re interested in getting involved or if you’re a survivor and you’re looking for support and/or resources, the Rape, Abuse Incest National Network has a searchable directory as well as a hotline.
If you’re in the San Fransisco Area, SF Women Against Rape and Bay Area Women Against Rape are amazing organizations. You can call, whether you’re a survivor of sexual assault or a significant other of a survivor (a partner, friend or family member), whatever your gender or sexual orientation, whether it just happened or if it happened a long time ago. These folks always need hotline volunteers and while I can’t speak about other organizations, I know that Bay Area Women Against Rape welcomes men as volunteers.
I also want to make sure that everyone knows that men are also survivors of sexual assault. It happens a lot more than most people think. I don’t want to go off on another topic, but I will point you to this article on the topic. It’s not the best-written article, but the general info is right on.
I also highly recommend Staci Haines’ book Healing Sex. It’s an amazing guide to sexual healing that blends the mind and the body into the process. I can’t say enough good things about it.
We can change things around sexual assault. It’s not going to be easy, but we can do it. And the world will be a much better place afterward.