Sexual Abuse: Statistics vs Reality and the Role You Play

(Audio version of this article above.)

There is something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time.

I’ve started books, I’ve started posts, I’ve started songs… but the timing never felt right, and the words never seemed to fall where they should. After years of patience and learning and healing and observation, I think it is finally time. 

I want to talk about sexual abuse.

Talking About Sexual Abuse

I’ve always been very open about my struggles with mental health. Connecting with others who suffer from depression and anxiety has taught me that we really aren’t alone.

That said, the few encounters I’ve had with people who’ve been through things similar to what I’ve been through has taught me that the pain tied to survivors of sexual abuse is a unique and stabbing pain, and it’s not something people talk about in the open.

I want to change that, and I want to change the conversation around sexual abuse. The pain doesn’t have to last forever.

My Sexual Abuse Series

Over the next two months I’ll be writing here and sharing on my new podcast things about surviving sexual abuse that just aren’t covered by the mass media.

This topic has been overrun with horror stories, accusations (true or not), controversial court cases, and what seems like years of pent up anger and resentment. 

The sad truth is, sexual abuse happens. It happens a lot. It happens to good people. And there’s no training about what to do when it happens to you. I’m sure there are therapists with resources, and there are probably a few self-help books out there, but those things aren’t the same as having a friend who understands. 

I’m just a normal person, but I’m also someone who understands things that most people, hopefully, will never have to know.

If you’re someone who has not personally experienced sexual abuse, I still want you here, because we can all learn to lift each other up.

We can all become more educated, so that our remarks reflect the sensitivity needed to create a safe place for people who are struggling.

Sexual Abuse Statistics

These are a few statistics provided by The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network:

  • Every 92 seconds another American is sexually assaulted.
  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted).
  • About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
  • From 2009-2013, Child Protective Services agencies substantiated, or found strong evidence to indicate that, 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse.
  • A majority of child victims are 12-17. Of victims under the age of 18: 34% of victims of sexual assault and rape are under age 12, and 66% of victims of sexual assault and rape are age 12-17.

According to their website, the majority of assaults happen at home.

When I read articles about sexual abuse, I find so many of them cover something called, “victim shaming”.

Basically, they explain that people figure if the victim knew their abuser, it’s somehow the victims fault that they were raped. They must have somehow led the attacker on.

I think, and I hope that the ridiculousness of that insinuation is becoming more clear to everyone. 

Yes, strangers attack people. However, more often than not, these sexual crimes are committed by family members, friends, acquaintances.

Overall, 8 out of 10 people who were raped knew their attacker. That’s 80%. That number jumps to 93% when talking about children. (see rainn.org)

The Reality of Sexual Abuse

There are plenty more disgusting and terrifying statistics about sexual abuse. I know I’m afraid to leave my daughter with anyone I don’t trust explicitly. But for a lot of people I think it’s hard to understand the reality of what these numbers mean.

You see a criminal sentenced to jail time, and you figure it’s a win, they got the person who did it, it’s over.

What you don’t see is the reality. 

The reality is a little girl lying on gynecologists table to find out if reproductive organs have been injured.

The reality is a little girl sitting with a series of psychologists and being bribed with candy and toys to explain the details of everything that happened, because a court case has to be built, a file has to be written, and by the nature of the crime, it falls on the little girl to provide the details and to relive everything she’d very much like to forget.

Here’s the thing; details don’t matter.

Five, ten, fifteen years down the line, it doesn’t even matter where the abuser is. What’s left is a little girl in pain.

Shifting the Focus

We need to shift the focus of the conversation away from the abuser and address the person who ends up forgotten. 

The truth is, revenge isn’t sweet. And guess what? The abuser can never take back what they did. That’s not to say the justice system isn’t incredibly important, it is, and there’s still so much that needs to be addressed in that regard, but at the end of the day, both parties have to live with the consequences of the crime, so the only answer that’s going to make any difference is finding healing.

I think the whole #MeToo movement made people feel like they had to share all the details of their story. Maybe some people found it cathartic. But to me, opening up all of those doors again is like picking at scabs. You’re never going to heal if you keep yourself bleeding.

You have every right to heal.

You don’t have to open that door in order to help people or to make a difference. 

I think the thing that takes the most courage is to let the pain go. To choose healing, and life, and joy, over the pain.

It’s not easy and it’s not quick, but it is possible.

You Never Know Who Might Be Hurting

As I continue to share more over these next few weeks, I hope that these posts will be shared, because there are so many people affected by sexual abuse, and I’d bet most of them feel like they don’t have anywhere to turn.

We’re blessed to live in a time with amazing tools for interconnectedness, and this is one of those instances when we can use them for good. Let’s spread some healing.

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