By Kaosarat Morenikeji Atobiloye and Peace Akinwale
We wrote about the crazy thing about sexual assault and what it actually means. What we’ve also discovered is that it affects relationships too. This occurs in two ways:
- It affects existing relationships if the assaulter or violator is known to the victim;
- It affects relationships with strangers (even friends and families) if the assaulter/violator is a stranger as the victim may become scared of both friends and strangers. You may call it paranoia. This is a result of a violent experience of assault and violence.
There are many effects of sexual assault. You should be reminded that not all survivors of sexual violence are affected the same way. That is, they don’t feel the effects the same way.
A group of 20 survivors will react to trauma differently. While some may want a change of environment, some may be cool with their environment but they will be consistently wary of new people. They may even commence a self-imposed curfew. They will believe they were abused because they were outside in the evening or early in the morning.
There is no right or wrong way of reacting to sexual assault. Individuals process the violence differently.
We know that sexual assault also happens with strangers. Sexual assault occurs with strangers, even in ride-sharing services like Uber and Bolt. While you can try to prevent sexual assault or violence in transport services like Uber or Bolt, it may be difficult when the violator is someone you have a relationship with. However, how does else sexual assault affect the relationship nurtured with people?
How sexual assault affects victims and their relationships
Victims will question why they are a target. It’s more dangerous when the culprit is someone known to them. Because the culprit is known, they believe they are meant for that kind of life. They may even begin to feel that they are undeserving of every good thing. It’s not the truth, but it’s what they believe. They are also affected in other ways like:
- They struggle to enjoy a healthy sexual relationship
Sometimes, people who have experienced sexual violence end up being traumatized sexually. That is, they may not want to indulge in the sexual act again.
They often find themselves struggling to enjoy healthy (sexual) relationships because they are triggered by the terror of their experience. Any act or touch that is synonymous with a sexual gesture may make them feel uncomfortable.
They also find it difficult to enjoy intimacy without having flashbacks of the assault. As a result of the negative feelings they’ve unconsciously associated with sexual acts, they tend to cope by avoiding any sort of intimacy or sexual activity completely. This, in turn, puts a strain on their relationship with their partners.
- They find it hard to draw boundaries
Sometimes, the lines are also blurry for a victim. They do not know when to draw boundaries. As a result, they find themselves in wrong relationships and they tend to over-give.
They feel satisfied with the most minimal gesture of care and affection because they do not have high expectations of the relationship. They sometimes engage in relationships to dead conversations about their lack of partners.
- It affects self-esteem
Another of such terrible aftermath of sexual assault is its negative impact on survivors’ self-esteem and relationships. You may wonder why sexual assault damages self-esteem.
Think of it this way: A woman says to herself every day that she’s beautiful and she’s the best she can be. She lives her life with confidence. Just one day, someone spots her and makes her a victim of sexual assault.
In some ways, it brings everything she ever believed in herself to question. She may start to see herself as an object for the pleasure of men. She may even think she is nothing but prey. If she doesn’t, she may start to feel she doesn’t own her body. She may even believe everything is wrong with her: Perhaps, her dress is not modest or that she is too beautiful or ugly.
The domino effect is successive and destructive to self-esteem and ego. Note that all these things are not true. Regardless of what has happened to them, they are beautiful. They have always been. But this will be difficult and impossible to absorb or believe.
- They blame themselves
Survivors also blame themselves for falling victim to violent sexual activity. They find it difficult to be happy. They can’t put it past their subconscious: The feeling of being abused, harassed and ripped of dignity.
They constantly beat themselves up and immerse themselves in the wishful thinking of how they could’ve avoided it thereby distorting their present lives.
It is often worse if the perpetrator is someone close to them. Victims may have a lot of guilt and self-blame that interferes with their ability to feel comfortable in their relationships with other people. They become scared of investing themselves emotionally in relationships for fear of being hurt or exploited again.
- They become hyper-vigilant
Victims of sexual assault become hyper-vigilant. They are constantly looking over their shoulders and assessing all situations they are in, even if safe. They suffer from depression and anxiety. This often makes it difficult for them to interact with others.
How victims of sexual assault or violence can recover from the experience
Every survivor of sexual assault or violence must be allowed to heal. They should be given all the aid they need to move past the trauma cast by the abuse. Dealing with the adverse consequences of abuse might require a tremendous amount of effort. As a result, they must be dealt with with a high level of patience.
Seeing a trauma-informed therapist is a step to healing. You can even send a text if you don’t know any therapist but you’d like to speak with one. Survivors should be in a healthy environment. They should be surrounded by healthy relationships that are based on love, care, and compassion to foster their recovery process.
In the case of a romantic relationship, the partner must be aware of their past. The partner must also possess a full understanding of the possible triggers the victim might have and avoid what may trigger it. Survivors learn more about the positive experience of sexual activity when in a healthy relationship. In some ways, they are a child, relearning how to live.
As adults, they are relearning how to make love.
It may be difficult to cope with relationships when an abuser or assaulter is someone known to a victim. The way the victim may be affected spreads across the psychological, physical, and emotional, among others.
If the victim isn’t bereaved of their self-esteem, self-love, or confidence, they may be disinterested in any sexual relationships. They may even start believing everybody close to them has a goal: To abuse and rob them of whatever dignity they have left.
I think a very common effects also is engaging in an unhealthy amount of sexual activities over and over again. This is not because they enjoy it. Most times it’s because they feel they deserve what happened and they have to make it happen over and over again, it only seems right. Others do it because they believe they will enjoy it again, they don’t, they know they don’t but they are choosing to believe that they will finally feel something. It’s part of their routine, they struggle to stop it, they recognize it’s unhealthy but can’t, it’s something they had always done.
Yes, you are right. This is where sex becomes obsessive. Some may even be fond of violent role-playing escapades.