Sexual abuse is surprisingly common in the United States, even with how much awareness has been spread regarding the topic. It’s estimated that there are nearly 500,000 cases of sexual abuse in the U.S. each year. While most victims of sexual abuse are women–with 1 in 3 women predicted to experience some form of sexual abuse in their lifetime–it’s important to acknowledge that this issue affects men too. Approximately 1 in every 33 men report having experienced sexual abuse on some level. It’s sad to say that the groups most at-risk for sexual abuse are those at the ends of the age spectrum–children and the elderly. This is because people in these age groups are unable to care for themselves and have to rely on others for their needs, which makes them more vulnerable to being taken advantage of. Despite its commonality, suffering from a traumatic event like this can cause a victim to feel extremely isolated. They might start to blame themselves for what happened, so they won’t seek the proper help to file a sexual abuse lawsuit. If you suspect that a friend or loved one has had an experience with sexual abuse, you must do what you can to ensure they feel supported to get the help they need.
It can be difficult to determine whether or not a friend or loved one has suffered from sexual abuse since the majority of the effects are mental, and because the signs vary based on factors like age or how an individual comes with stress and trauma. You’ll find that the majority of information surrounding the warning signs of sexual abuse focuses on children. Oftentimes, children are not able to advocate for themselves either because they’re too young to be able to understand the situation, or they understand it and feel too much shame to be able to talk about it. This is why it’s important as a guardian–or as anyone who has a young child in their life that matters to them–that you familiarize yourself with the warning signs so you can remove a child from a situation of sexual abuse and get them the help that they need to heal. Children who are suffering from sexual abuse will often display changes in their regular sleeping habits. This could include things like more commonly having nightmares or night terrors, frequent bed-wetting or other accidents, and a new fear of sleeping alone. Along with a fear of sleeping alone, children who are suffering from sexual abuse might develop attachment issues, increased anxiety, and might become more timid around others, especially when meeting new people. Another change you might notice in a child suffering from sexual abuse is in their shcool performance. Children in these situations might start struggling in subjects they once excelled in, might have trouble concentrating on their work, or might fear going to school altogether. Older children might start acting out, picking fights with peers, using substances, or oversexualizing themselves.
If an elder loved one is suffering from sexual abuse in an assissted living facility–about 2% of older adults do suffer sexual abuse–then you might notice them start to isolate themselves from others. They might also seem more depressed or less trusting of others. Of course, in any age group, the most obvious signs of sexual abuse are physcial, though these are typically more rare since abusers will try to hide their actions. Physical signs of abuse could include torn clothing, bruises, scratches, more common urinary tract infections, or the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases.
If you think your friend or loved one is suffering from sexual abuse, it’s important that you make them feel supported by letting them know that you’re ready and willing to be there for them. It’s important, too, that you don’t make them feel pressured to share details about their experience if they aren’t comfortable doing so–this could only lead them to feel more shame and trauma. Give your loved one the time and space that they need to work through it, and when they are ready, they will come to you and share what they feel safe to. While it’s comforting to victims of sexual abuse to know that they have their loved ones to support them, it’s best for them to get help from trained professionals. Mental health counselors are trained in helping people who have suffered from trauma–and some even specialize specifically in helping those who have suffered from sexual abuse. Finding the right therapist and support groups can help victims through the healing process since these resources can show them that they truly are not alone.