Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse or sexual assault, which occurs in many forms, includes child sexual abuse, male and female rape, and ritual sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is generally considered by experts, including mental health professionals, as an "act of aggression" and not a "crime of passion." The majority of sexual abusecrime is committed by men, and it is increasing at a faster rate than any other violent crime in the United States. The National Victim Center reports that over 700,000 women are sexually abused annually, with an estimated 61% ofthese under the age of 18, and that, as a conservative estimate, one in everysix boys is sexually abused before the age of 16. These numbers are considered extremely conservative. Studies show that approximately 80% of all sexualassaults are committed by a friend, acquaintance, or family member of the victim. Victims of sexual abuse--whether female or male, child or adult--are susceptible to life-long emotional pain. Because so many cases go unreported, many victims suffer their pain in silence and without help or comfort.

Use of drugs and alcohol has been found to contribute to the risk of sexual abuse. Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam) is a sleeping medication that, although not marketed in the United States, has been associated here with "date rape" due tothe disinhibition it causes. Also known by the street names of Roachies, Rophies, Ruffies, or La Roche, it can impair memory and judgment for eight to 24hours. These side effects are greater when this medication is ingested in combination with alcohol.

It is estimated that fewer than 50% and perhaps as few as 10% of all rapes are ever reported. Factors believed to contribute to the gross under-reportingof rape and other sexual abuse include embarrassment, unwillingness to exposethe friend or relative who committed the crime, fear of further injury, andfear of court procedures that often brutally scrutinize and judge the victim's behavior and history. These fears apply similarly to both female and male victims. Myths that surround sexual abuse and rape include:

  • No really doesn't mean no.
  • Nice girls don't get raped.
  • She asked for it.
  • Children make up stories about rape.
  • The victim is at faultfor allowing sexual abuse to continue.
  • Most assaults are by strangers.
  • The best way to recover from the assault is not to talk about it and act like it never happened happen.
  • Attractive women are provocativeand/or promiscuous.
  • All men can defend themselves.
  • Male rapeis homosexual rape or only occurs in prisons.

Each of these misconceptions can allow the blame to be shifted from the abuser to the abused, leading to a lack of support for, and even condemnation withsecondary victimization of, the victim.


Rape is the forcible and unlawful carnal knowledge of one person by another.More common than rape by a stranger is rape by someone known to the victim. This includes acquaintance rape, date rape, and marital rape. Acquaintance rape is any unwanted sexual intercourse forced upon one person by someone they have either just met, are dating, or have known for a long time. Date rape isforced sexual intercourse by someone with whom the victim is on a "date" or even to whom they are engaged. Marital rape is forced sexual relations on a partner by their spouse, and often occurs within the cycle of domestic violence. Forced sexual relations may be by way of threat, tone of voice, physical power, or threat with a weapon. A 1984 article reporting a study done by the National Center for the Prevention and Control of Rape estimated that up to 92%of adolescent rape victims said they knew their rapists, and of that number,most victims were females between the ages of 15 and 25 years.

Date Rape

The following information was reported in a study conducted for Ms. Magazinein 1985 by a professor at Kent State University. The researcher interviewed 7,000 male and female students across 32 college campuses. The study revealedthat one in every eight women had been raped, and that one in every 12 men admitted to having either physically forced or attempted to force sexual intercourse with a woman. Interestingly, none of these men believed they were rapists. Also, only 57% of the women who suffered unwanted sexual intercourse called their experience rape, and another 43% had not even admitted to themselvesthat they had been raped. According to the report, date rape occurs on all types of college campuses, whether a small, private school or a larger publicschool-either in the city or the country.

The study also revealed that the more informed women are about date or acquaintance rape the more chance they have of avoiding it. While there appears tobe no one particular cause of date rape, three factors strongly contributingto the act are socialization, miscommunication, and changing sexual traditions.

  • Socialization: Researchers believe the biggest factor in date or acquaintance rape-and indeed, even in marital rape and child rape-is disregardfor a woman's (or child's) rights or desires. Most cultures, including Western cultures, are traditionally patriarchal. In such societies, young boys aregenerally expected and encouraged to be tough and aggressive, particularly in sports and at play. They are even praised and admired for their physical strength and willingness to use aggression to show their strength and prowess.Also, there is considerable societal acceptance for young men experimenting with their sexality as part of their developing "masculinity." Girls, on the other hand, are conditioned to be more passive, to keep the peace, to be ladylike, not to fight, and generally become disrespected when they experiment with their sexuality. They are also generally expected, and therefore ultimatelyexpect, to be dependent upon a man or men financially. These roles may appear as superiority in a man and inferiority in a woman, and often seem to leada man to believe he has the right to expect sex from a woman, even without her consent.
  • Communication: Many misconceptions and mixed messages canoccur when it comes to sexual relations, particularly between younger peopleand those experiencing their first sexual encounter. When placed in context of socialization, a young woman feeling sexual desire for her date or partnermay often say no, because it is generally socially unacceptable for young women to have sex. She may strongly desire intercourse while not wanting to appear "easy" or go against her moral upbringing. However, her sexual desire maybe apparent and her date may sense this. He may feel confused about these "mixed signals," and his more aggressive tendencies encourage him to turn his partner's negative or uncertain response into a positive one. This may ultimately result in coercion or even physical force, which then becomes rape. Also,for many men, a woman struggling against his physical coercion is even more sexually arousing.

There are several other areas of miscommunication that may culminate in daterape. For example, often a woman perceives herself as simply being friendly and outgoing while her date perceives her as flirting and encouraging sex, andthus acts upon his perception.

  • Sexual mores: Since the 1960s and particularly with the availability of the birth control pill, sexual standards have generally become much less strict and, in general, both women and men engage in sexual intercourse at a much younger age-even in high school and college. Many young men, therefore, may simply expect to have sex with a woman after just a few dates, while some may believe that if a woman is sexually active with other men, he, too, has a right to expect she will be sexually activewith him, regardless of her wishes.

Date rape will usually occur when a woman is alone with a man-perhaps in hiscar or his room, even if that room is in an apartment or dormitory with several other people on the premises. Drugs and alcohol are large contributors todate rape. They may make the woman less inhibited and when she reaches a point of refusing intercourse, her partner refuses to stop. Or she may "pass out"only to awaken to find her date has had sex with her. On the other hand, drugs and alcohol may make the male more sexually aggressive than usual, forcingsex upon his date, even if she has had little or no mind-altering substances.

The study referred to here, as well as the opinions of most professionals dealing with the incidence of rape stress that acquaintance or date rape is notsimply a result of miscommunication or misunderstanding. It is a deliberate,sometimes premeditated attempt by one person (usually a man) to exert their will and physical power over another. It appears that forcing sex upon someonemakes the aggressor feel strong because it makes someone else feel weak. A clinical psychologist and author of Men Who Rape: The Psychology of the Offender, writes: "All sexual assault is an act of aggression, regardless ofthe gender or age of the victim or the assailant. Neither sexual desire norsexual deprivation is the primary motivating force behind sexual assault. Itis not about sexual gratification, but rather a sexual aggressor using somebody else as a means of expressing their own power and control.

Marital Rape

Legal definitions of marital rape differ; however, it is generally defined as"any unwanted intercourse or penetration (vaginal, anal, or oral) obtained by force, threat of force, or when the wife is unable to consent." Marital rape is often defined as such whether it occurs in a relationship where the couple is legally married, or is cohabitating, divorced, or separated. One famousstudy from 1990 exposed marital rape as a serious problem faced by millionsof women, that 10% to 14% of all married women have been raped by their husbands, and that marital rape makes up at least 25% of all rapes. Women in physically abusive relationships are particularly vulnerable to marital rape, andsimilar studies show that up to 50% of battered women have been raped at least once by their spouse. Also, women raped by their husbands are usually rapedmany times before they can escape the situation. Abusive husbands may rape their wife after she falls asleep; or use threats, violence, punishment, or weapons to force sex upon their spouse.

Men who both batter and rape their wives appear to escalate the violence overtime, even to the point of murder. Abused women are at a higher risk of serious injury or murder when they attempt to-or succeed-in leaving the abusive relationship. One study reported that two thirds of the women interviewed weresexually abused when they ended the relationship, and another study revealedthat women separated or divorced from their husbands were at high risk for sexual abuse.

Marital rape has traditionally been ignored by the legal system and society in general for generations. Increased public awareness of the subject began inthe 1970s; however, not until 1993 did marital rape become a crime in all 50states. Even by the late 1990, in 33 states, some exemptions still remained,that release husbands from prosecution for marital rape. In spite of many studies on the subject, little is known about this particular form of sexual abuse. It is known, however, that age, socioeconomic, racial, or ethnic background are no indicators of marital rape. However, it seems that almost two-thirds of sexually-abused wives were first raped by their husbands before the ageof 25; women in lower income families are more likely to report marital rape; numbers of marital rape were slightly higher among African-American women than white, Latinas and Asians; and white women are more likely to leave an abusive husband.

While marital rape is often grouped under the general heading of domestic violence, there appear to be several different types of this form of abuse:

  • Battering may occur during the sexual abuse.
  • Sexual abuse may occur after the battering, with the husband showing remorse, wanting to make up,and coercing the wife to have sex against her will.
  • Sadistic or obsessive rape involves perverse sexual acts and/or torture that are physically violent. Pornography is often associated with this form of abuse.
  • Marital rape without other forms of physical abuse (force-only rape).

Studies have found no particular profile of the rapist husband; however, it seems they are often jealous, domineering, have a sense of ownership or possession of their spouse whom they believe is obligated to have sex with them. Victims of marital rape-like any other sex abuse victim--experience severe physical and emotional trauma. Rape by someone loved and trusted causes feelingsof betrayal, while the anxiety of living and sleeping with someone who may, at any time, initiate unwanted sexual relations, can cause long-term consequences such as eating and sleeping disorders, depression, sexual dysfunction, emotional pain, and feelings of worthlessness and loss of self-esteem.

Male Rape

Historically, male rape in ancient times was considered the right of a victorious soldier against soldiers of the defeated warring faction. The philosophybehind the act was that the man who was sexually penetrated lost his manhoodand could no longer be a warrior. This custom was still practiced by certainEuropean countries during World War I. In Roman times, gang raping a male was the ultimate punishment, particularly for adultery or--by Persians and Iranians--for sleeping with women from a harem. In modern history, the rape of amale prisoner by another or several male prisoners was relatively common knowledge. However, it is only in the last two or three decades that male rape inthe general population has been brought to the awareness of the general population.

According to Bureau of Justice Statistics from 1994, approximately 60,000 males aged 12 and older were raped in 1992 and, in the 10 years from 1975 to 1985, 123,000 males were raped. Almost all of these rapes were by other men. These figures are believed to be extremely low in comparison to the actual number of male rapes, however. The profile of offenders as listed in a well-knownstudy on the subject is that:

  • Half the perpetrators reported their normal sexual interaction is with women only.
  • Half of the victim population was heterosexual.
  • The gender and age of the victim was unimportant to approximately half of the perpetrators-accessibility rather than sexualorientation was a primary reason for the choice of victim.

In some instances of male rape--usually of a younger child--the perpetrator is a woman. It may be the boy's mother, sister, aunt, babysitter, caregiver, or some other female who holds some type of power over the male.

Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse is defined as "...the use of a child (any person under theage of 16) by an adult for sexual purposes whether or not consent is allegedto have been given." No child is exempt or protected from the possibility ofchild sexual abuse. Studies estimate that one out of every four children will become a victim, and almost every one of those children will be victimizedby someone they know, or love and trust. The aggressor can either be an older, more sexually informed child, or an adult, who uses the younger child for sexual arousal. The abuse can be physical, verbal, or emotional, often beginning gradually and increasing over time. It may involve tricking, bribing, threatening, coercing, or physically forcing the child into submission. Physicalforce is usually unnecessary, however, as children are usually dependent, trusting, naively vulnerable, have been taught to respect and obey adults, or may desperately want to avoid disfavor and gain love and approval. Child sex abusers use this vulnerability, violating the child's right to a healthy and trusting relationship. Child sexual abuse includes:

  • Oral, anal, or vaginal penetration.
  • Touching and fondling of the child's genitalia.
  • Viewing sexual or pornographic movies with the child.
  • Having a child undress, pose naked for photographs or videos, and/or perform sexual actsfor photographic or movie purposes.
  • Spying on children in their bedrooms or bathrooms.
  • Rape, attempted rape, and oral sex.

Most children do not report sexual abuse because they are either too young toexplain what they experienced, are afraid because of threats by their aggressor or are afraid of getting into trouble from the person they tell, have been bribed to keep the secret, fear they will be called a liar or are making upa story, may feel confused because of what they perceive as "loving attention" accompanying the abuse, believe they are bad and blame themselves, or don't want to get a loved one (their abuser) into trouble. Unless the abuse is extreme, physical evidence is rare, and detecting child abuse can be difficult.Some symptoms may include:

  • Sleep disturbances or eating disorders.
  • Depression/anxiety.
  • Fear of particular places.
  • Withdrawal from family and friends or problems in school.
  • Discipline problems/running away from home.
  • Low self-esteem or destructive behavior.
  • Hostility/aggression.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Suicide attempts.
  • Sexual activity or pregnancy at a young age.
  • Copyingadult sexual behavior, or sexual knowledge beyond that expected for their age.
  • Physical evidence of abuse such as unusual swelling, bleeding, or irritation of the genitals, anus, or mouth.
  • Indirect comments about sexual encounters.
  • Persistent sexual play with other children, toys, orpets.

Sexual abuse in general is extremely damaging emotionally, and is particularly so to children. It is a difficult and complicated issue, and requires astute observance on the part of adults to detect it in the first place, and thena completely loving, supportive, and caring environment-including professional counseling-to help the victim deal with the trauma and feel good about themselves as both children and adults. There are many resources available to help victims and their families. Teaching children about sexual abuse with safety information appropriate to their developmental level can help increase their awareness and coping skills.

Ritual Abuse

This form of abuse is an extremely sadistic and damaging abuse of children ornon-consenting adults. In not only consists of ritualistic and methodical sexual abuse, but physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse, but often includesmind control, torture, child pornography, prostitution, and even murder-all of which is performed in the name of some religious or political philosophy.

Lasting Effects of Sexual Abuse

Whether performed by a male or a female, sexual abuse is extremely damaging and painful emotionally and psychologically to the victim. Many victims of sexual assault experience symptoms of helplessness, guilt, humiliation, insomnia, impaired memory and sexual dysfunction. This post-traumatic stress syndromemay also include flashbacks of the assault, avoidance of the place and circumstance in which the rape occurred, and avoidance of previously pleasurable activities. In a cross-sectional study of women who had been raped compared towomen who had not experienced any criminal victimization, the victims ratedthemselves as significantly less healthy, visited the physician nearly twiceas often, and incurred double the medical costs. Medical problems directly related to the assault may include acute injuries, acquired sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy.

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