Sexual assault is defined as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. If a person does not explicitly agree to a sexual act, any further physical contact is considered sexual assault or for instance rape. Sexual assault is NEVER okay & should NEVER be tolerated.
Why Is It A Relevant Issue?
Sexual assault is a very common crime in the world, and more specifically speaking, in America. Even more specifically, here at Penn State, students receive a substantial amount of alerts reporting alleged sexual assault instances on campus. However, when reading these reports we do not often take into account the effects of these instances. According to “RAINN”, a leading movement against sexual assault, rape, and incest, an American citizen is sexually assaulted every 120 seconds, or two minutes. That rate amounts to an average of 207,754 sexual assault victims a year. This is why sexual assault is such an important issue to promote awareness about. In other words, as I am typing this blog and as you are reading, someone somewhere is being sexually assaulted, which is extremely alarming.
Where Does Science Come Into Play?
Believe it or not, sexual assault actually has many effects on the brain of the victim. Psychological effects on the victim are in phases, which start as immediate effects and turn into chronic effects. However, keep in mind that not every victim reacts to sexual assault the same way. Some examples of immediate psychological effects following a sexual assault include anxiety, shame or guilt, shock, distrust of others, flashbacks, emotional detachment, and fear. Examples of chronic psychological effects are depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, decrease of interest or avoidance in sex, attempted or completed suicide, and low self esteem, even causing a victim to blame him or herself for the attack.
Based on a study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, sexually molested and non-sexually molested children showed various to no psychological effects. Of the twenty-eight children reviewed in the study, the females showed the most extreme levels of emotional distress. Also, almost half of the sexually assaulted children were referred for psychiatric evaluation. In another study, it was concluded that rape victims with post-traumatic stress disorder show great signs of alexithymia. This basically explains how sexual assault victims can become emotionally deprived.
Multiple studies, including randomized control trials, have also concluded that childhood sexual abuse actually effect the brain’s genital sensation regions, among other things. This can cause sexually abused women to have less desires and sensations sexually. During a randomized control trial, the sexually abused women (out of the twenty-eight total abused women) showed signs of changes in their somatosensory cortexes (“paints a picture” of the body for the brain, and controls sensations) further concluding to have thinning in areas that had genitalia. More details on these studies can be reviewed HERE.
Are There Undiscovered Effects?
YES! There are so many victims of sexual assault in the world, so how can we accurately measure the true scientific effects victims face? The before-mentioned effects are the ones noted to be most commonly seen in sexual assault victims, but are there more that have been undiscovered? I think it is interesting to think about, noting that there would have to be huge experiments and surveys done (which still can be inaccurate). This just goes to say that regardless of the mentioned studies, there still is no concrete definition of the effects sexual assault plays on victims. So there has to be many other developing effects on the human brain that we have not yet discovered.
- Szalavitz, Maia. “Sexual and Emotional Abuse Scar the Brain in Specific Ways | TIME.com.” Time. Time, 5 June 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2016. <http://healthland.time.com/2013/06/05/sexual-and-emotional-abuse-scar-the-brain-in-specific-ways/>.
- Heersink, Olivia. “Changing The Narrative Surrounding Sexual Assault.” Odyssey. N.p., 13 June 2016. Web. 20 Oct. 2016. <https://www.theodysseyonline.com/changing-the-narrative-surrounding-sexual-assault>.
- Thompson, Dennis, Jr. “The Aftermath of Childhood Sexual Abuse.” EverydayHealth.com. N.p., 16 July 2009. Web. 20 Oct. 2016. <http://www.everydayhealth.com/sexual-health/childhood-sexual-abuse.aspx>.
- “Sexual Violence: Consequences.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 June 2016. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. <http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/sexualviolence/consequences.html>.
- “Proximate Effects of Sexual Abuse in Childhood: A Report on 28 Children.” Proximate Effects of Sexual Abuse in Childhood: A Report on 28 Children | American Journal of Psychiatry. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 1 Apr. 2006. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. <http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.139.10.1252>.
- “Alexithymia in Victims of Sexual Assault: An Effect of Repeated Traumatization?” Alexithymia in Victims of Sexual Assault: An Effect of Repeated Traumatization? | American Journal of Psychiatry. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. <http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.150.4.661>.
- “The Definition of Alexithymia.” Dictionary.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/alexithymia>.