By Dr Zubair Abdulahi
28 June 2020.
Sexual assault is sexual contact that involves force upon a person who is not consenting or incapable of consenting due to age, physical or mental incapacity.
It encompasses all forms of sexual violence, rape and harassment by someone in a position of trust or authority to assert power and control over another person.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), sexual assault or violence is in all cultures and areas of the world with as high as 1 in 5 women reporting sexual violence and 1 in 3 women reporting that their first sexual experience was forced in some parts of the world.
Men are also victims of sexual assault with around 1 in 200 men reporting sexual violence. Sexual assault is very common and is seen in nearly every part of the world. Children and the elderly are also at risk.
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Sexual assault is deemed serious if it involves rape or assault by penetration and less serious if it is limited to indecent exposure or unwanted touching.
Sexual violence encompasses acts that range from verbal harassment to forced penetration, and an array of types of coercion, from social pressure and intimidation to physical force.
It occurs in intimate relationships, within families and communities, during conflict and situations of great unease. Most of the perpetrators are known to the victims, and only a small fraction of cases involve total strangers.
Who is affected?
Sexual assault is a serious problem in the world today, as it is both a public health and human right concern. It can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender or sexual orientation, although women are at a higher risk. The following persons are especially at risk:
People with disabilities
What are the effects of sexual assault on victims?
Overall, sexual assault is a traumatic and painful experience for the survivor with both immediate and long-term physical, mental and reproductive health complications which may include trauma to the reproductive tract, unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortion, sexually transmitted infections, depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties and suicidal behaviour. In the immediate period, victims may experience shock and denial, low mood and mood swings, nightmares and flashbacks and guilt or blame.
What should you do if you experience sexual violence?
Seek immediate medical help
This is the next step in dealing with sexual assault, especially in cases of rape, after ensuring your safety. Hospitals are equipped with rape kits and trained personnel who will carry out a quick physical examination and ask you questions about the incident. They record the findings immediately according to regulations and policies and also take samples for forensic evidence which may be helpful in the event pf a criminal investigation and to screen for diseases. Ensure that you do not wash your clothes or yourself before you present at the hospital to provide adequate samples for forensics.
Emergency contraception and prophylaxis for HIV will also be offered. If there is any physical trauma or injury, appropriate care will also be provided which may require surgery in some cases.
Talk to someone
Getting the required help after experiencing sexual assault may be cumbersome or confusing. Talking to a trusted friend or relative will be beneficial in getting support as you seek further help.
Consider legal support or reporting to the police
In Nigeria, sexual assault and similar offences are criminal offences punishable by law. Globally, formal reports to the police are low compared to the number of incidents for many reasons. If you intend to take legal proceedings, talk to a lawyer and make a formal complaint with the police.
If you require other forms of support, consider enlisting the help of “specialised centres for victims of sexual assault” like Mirabel centre.
They have specially trained support staff ready to offer mental support in the immediate period and later on. Mood disorders such as depression may occur in the weeks following assault and professional help may be necessary which can be provided for by these organisations.