At MOCSA, our staff and volunteer advocates see victims of sexual violence in area hospital emergency rooms in the immediate hours after they have experienced their most traumatic moments. They are scared. They are confused. They are mentally — and sometimes physically — bruised, battered and scarred.
The journey to healing for victims of sexual violence can begin immediately with MOCSA hospital advocates there to provide information and referrals, to be a listening ear, and a shoulder to cry on. But the lasting negative health effects of sexual violence for many victims can manifest and last years after an initial sexual assault.
According to the World Health Organization, victims of sexual violence experience higher rates of depression, sleeping and eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims may be more likely to abuse substances and attempt suicide. Without treatment, children who experience sexual abuse are likely to face the same devastating struggles. Children who have been sexually abused are more likely to experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, anxiety, sleep and eating disorders, and are more likely to struggle with substance abuse and attempt suicide later in life.
Throughout the nation, April is recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This month of awareness provides for an annual opportunity for our community to strengthen our resolve to prevent sexual violence.
Our awareness and sensitivities to the sexual abuse and assault that one in four girls, one in six boys, one in six women and one in 33 men experience mean more to victims than you know. We hear regularly from children and adults that the thing they feared the most when coming forward about their experience was that they were afraid no one would believe them.
During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I encourage every community member to start by believing victims of sexual violence when they come forward, and applaud them for their courage. I encourage everyone to recognize the critical importance of educating our children on sexual violence prevention. Young students need to know about good, bad and confusing touches, and that they have a right to tell if someone does something to make them uncomfortable. Teenagers and college students need to understand what consent looks like, what it means, and what the laws are.
I encourage you to seek out opportunities to educate and bring awareness of sexual assault to those you care about. I encourage you to get involved by volunteering or financially supporting local agencies’ efforts to fight sexual violence.
The epidemic of sexual violence is not solely the problem of the victims it claims. It’s a societal problem that every one of us has an obligation to be aware of and to address. I hope you will join MOCSA this month in raising awareness of these important issues, and letting survivors know they are never alone.
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