By: Madison Trahan, Grants Manager
In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it is important to recognize the undeniable intersection between sexual assault and mental health, and the many other factors that can contribute to vulnerability to sexual assault, such as race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and even religion. We must also discuss the cyclical nature of sexual assault and mental health. It is true that people who are mentally ill experience much higher rates (97% for women) of sexual assault, and, according to the NCDAV, “sexual trauma is associated with…psychological consequences” including “shock, fear, anxiety, confusion, withdrawal, PTSD, depression, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, alcohol and illicit drug use, nonfatal suicidal behavior and suicidal threats, physical symptoms,” and more.
The trauma endured because of sexual assault is nonlinear, and can affect housing, job retention, finances, relationships, and self-esteem of victims. These are often compounded with the devastating effects of racism, transphobia, sexism, classism, ableism, and more, especially when considering one in two transgender people are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, one out of every six U.S. women is a victim of rape or attempted rape, and 35% percent of Black women experience some form of contact sexual violence during their lifetime. Additionally, reporting can seem impossible, and can multiply the effects of or cause new trauma. Reasons for not reporting are many and include the fear of not being believed or of being blamed for the assault, the agony of enduring court proceedings, the fear of the perpetrator escaping charges, the vulnerability of sharing trauma in front of people, and the threat of retaliation from the perpetrator to name a few. All of this is further complicated when we consider 80% of teenagers who have been sexually assaulted developed one mental health disorder and 55% had at least two mental health disorders, and that Texas is ranked 46th in the United States for “the prevalence of mental illness and rates of access for people under 18 years old.”
Mental Health America of Greater Houston recognizes the multitude of intersections that converge around sexual assault and mental healthcare, and for this reason, we will continue to drive community solutions to promote mental health for all. There are ways you can support the rehabilitation of victims alongside us. You can donate time, money, and resources to organizations supporting sexual assault victims and prevention. You can learn about the causes and effects of sexual assault to stop misinformation in its tracks. You can learn how to support someone who has been victimized by sexual violence. You can join the fight in changing legislation to support and bring justice for survivors. And, if you are a survivor, you can practice self-care, self-love, and self-patience while you navigate your healing. Reclaiming your life, your joy, your mind, and your power is possible, and is the ultimate protest of sexual violence.