Sexual Trauma and the Challenges Facing Women

Different things can be empowering for different women. Although there is one issue that has undoubtedly developed throughout the years that women have found more freedom in. Sex. Women have developed a confidence in not only having sex but talking about sex too.

International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the achievements of females, for matters such as their determination and acts of courage.  Despite the confidence that women might show, there are certainly elements of sex in today’s society, which can lead to them experiencing feelings of weakness and vulnerability.

Around 85,000 women in the UK are sexually assaulted each year and one in four will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Clearly sexual assault doesn’t only affect women however statistics they are more likely to be sexually assaulted than men. In Scotland, four percent of women have experienced serious sexual assault since the age of 16, compared with once percent of men, while sexual crimes have increased consecutively each year, since 2008. In England and Wales, approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped every year.

Despite an increasing number of studies into the causes of sexual violence, there continues to be a frightening trend for male figures to say insensitive things about sexual assault and the female victims of it. In 2011, Kenneth Clarke, the British Justice Secretary at the time, caused upset when he differentiated between ‘date rape’ and ‘serious rape’.

In 2012, in the US, Republican Senate candidate Todd Aikin stated that women couldn’t get pregnant as a result of rape, claiming that ‘the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down’. Also during this year, in India, following the tragedy of a young women being gang-raped on a bus and dying as a result of their injuries, ‘spiritual guru’ Asaram Bapu, claimed the victim was in part responsible, as she could have prevented it had she ‘chanted God’s name’.

These perspectives are deeply worrying, not to mention extremely disrespectful, especially as they were spoken by people in positions of power, whose responsibility should be focused on the prevention of such crimes and supporting victims. These views are indicative of an attitude that still exists of how women are in some way to blame, for their own sexual attacks.

Women do not ask to be the subject of sexual attacks or to be subjected to having to deal with sexual trauma. The idea behind views such as how the length of a skirt or the number of sexual partners a woman has, translates into meaning that she is making herself more available and therefore ‘asking for it’ should continue to be spoken out against, reinforcing the truth that women are not responsible for being subjected to sexual assault.

The aftermath of a sexual attack can not only be physically damaging but mentally scarring. Many women can have their confidence destroyed and understandably begin to withdraw themselves from any possibility of intimate experiences.

There is a wide range of help available to help victims deal with what they are experiencing. Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre focuses on supporting survivors of sexual violence. This includes rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual bullying, child sexual abuse, organised abuse and commercial sexual exploitation. The organisation works to “change the attitudes about gender based violence and improve services for survivors”.

The three main points suggested by the crisis centre to help tackle the issue include:

  • –  Believing someone who discloses sexual violence to you
  • –  Supporting them to make their own choices about what they want to do
  • –  Challenging abusive behaviour or views which promote violence

There are also a number of counselling agencies in Edinburgh alone, to provide support such as the Sexual Trauma Service for Edinburgh Lothian and ELSAS (Edinburgh Women’s Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre).

It is vital that these victims are supported and that on this International Women’s Day, we acknowledge not only the strong women but the women who need help to find their strength.

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