Our in-house counsellor, Mandy Coles, shares her knowledge and personal experience about Sexual Violence and why awareness around this topic is crucial for healing…
I became passionate about Sexual Violence Awareness after supporting a person who suffered with anxiety, depression, self blame, alcohol dependency and then suicide attempts due to the shame of being sexually assaulted as a child…
I then began to discover just how common this was.
Sexual assault (SA) is a complex form of trauma with its impacts often lasting years. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has helped to acknowledge the significance of the violation, pain and suffering caused to people who have been sexually assaulted.
Having worked as a senior practitioner and specialist sexual assault counsellor over the past 10 years, I have heard many disclosures of both profound trauma as well as incredible courage and determination. Often I am the first person survivors tell of their experiences, which is something I take very seriously.
I am passionate about providing an appropriate trauma informed response, to support those brave enough to step forward.
Recovery from SA can be compounded due to the stigma associated with it, as well as the many myths. Often people (men and women) don’t come forward due to reasons such as scrutiny, legalities, shame and fear of negative attention or of being blamed.
Unfortunately these myths create a culture of silencing.
I hope that with more community investigations, education and awareness in the media, such as the Royal Commission, the #metoo campaign, and initiatives such as ‘what were you wearing’, as well as perpetrator programs, and education throughout schools for girls and boys that include:
- protective behaviours
- healthy relationships
- consent, and
- impacts of violence
… more people will come forward, creating social change.
I believe this is starting to happen already, and as a practitioner, mother and a Whitsunday community member I have always worked with and provided support and education for community members, victims and perpetrators and have encouraged it.
I believe change is happening and although I am seeing more referrals (mostly historical childhood SA), I believe this is due to education and awareness rather than an increased number of assaults.
There is still a lot of work to do though in creating a culture where SA is never excused or accepted, by both men and women, as unfortunately it is a common crime.
- SA is common and can happen to anyone
- Consent is the presence of an informed and freely given ‘yes.’ (NOT the absence of a No)
- Any forced or coerced sexual activity can be sexual assault
- People are more likely to be assaulted by people they know
- Although SA is more prevalent in women, boys and men are also victims, and women can be perpetrators
- The majority of perpetrators are men, but the vast majority of men are not perpetrators
- The idea that behaviour or clothing can trigger SA is a myth, as this doesn’t account for the majority of sexual assaults, including that of children who are most likely to be assaulted by someone they know and trust, such as a family member or trusted friend
The impacts of SA are multi faceted and can make support complicated. This includes all genders, male, female and transgender, adult survivors of historical childhood sexual assault, adults who have experienced acute sexual assault, child sexual assault and abuse, and supporting family members of those impacted.
While SA is always a traumatic experience, it can impact people differently depending on context, support, responses of family members, severity of the abuse, length of time it occurred and other factors, which all impact resilience and recovery.
Normal responses to trauma can include:
- psychological and emotional impacts,
- physical and medical impacts,
- social and community impacts, as well as
- financial impacts
I believe it is important to also note that although the disclosure process for adult survivors of childhood sexual assault is complex for all genders, masculine norms and stereotypes have contributed to an environment that often negates the experience for men.
It is estimated that 1 in four girls and one in seven boys will experience some form of sexual or indecent assault before they reach the age of 18 years
Often due to the perpetrators grooming tactics, which are premeditated, deliberate and planned in order to maintain secrecy, install fear and a sense of responsibility and shame, the child sometimes doesn’t tell until many years later.
If a child does disclose to you, it is extremely important to believe them, explain that it is not their fault, praise for the courage to disclose, they are not in trouble and they will be protected.
If an adult discloses, the response can also be critical with respect to the decisions about what to do next in their recovery and with respect to the law. It is important to believe, to remind that this is a crime committed against them and you will help with the support process.
Get The Help You Need
If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and are currently experiencing the impacts of such trauma (anxiety, depression….. etc), or you feel you need to speak to someone about a sexual violence experience you (or someone you know) has had, call our clinic on (07) 4946 7910.
We offer a confidential counselling service, in a comfortable and safe environment
You need not deal with this on your own.
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