If you have experienced sexual assault, it is important to realize you are not alone, and you are not ruined. Your body is yours, and only you can decide what to truly and willingly share with another person. You may not always receive this message in school or from the media, but your choices are important – and you are still a whole person worthy of respect, personal decision making, and intimacy.
If you have endured the physical and emotional trauma associated with unwanted sexual contact, assault and rape, unfortunately you must also deal with conflicting societal messages. Broken self perception and diminished self worth is a long lasting side effect of sexual abuse, particularly in a society that condones abstinence-only education, creates a culture of slut shaming, and has a lack of physical and mental health resources. The system is broken; you are not.
A recent article featured in The Independent highlighted the correlation between inadequate sexual health and consent education and low self worth in girls, particularly those who have experienced sexual abuse. One conservative study by the CDC estimates that one quarter of US girls have experienced sexual abuse during childhood. 1 out of 4 young women – and probably many more – have been touched inappropriately or molested, often by someone they knew and trusted. This reality is often ignored, and little talked about, in school or at home.
Compare this percentage to the 30 percent of US public middle and high schools that report teaching abstinence-only programs, with many more opting to push abstinence as a priority with paltry reference to forms of STD prevention and birth control. These curriculums and attitudes pertaining to sexual health do not teach boundaries, autonomy, or consent. The message is loud and clear to young women: any sexual contact makes you “impure.” Lost virginity is often referred to as “a chewed piece of gum“; in this climate, how can a girl who has survived sexual assault possibly begin to regain confidence and see herself as whole again?
When sex is presented to teens as “deviant behavior,” it is inevitable that they will consider themselves deviant for feeling or participating (or all too often, being forced into) sexual activity. Low self esteem and poor body image is associated with increased risk of pregnancy, depression, and suicide. For those who have experienced sexual abuse, it is vital to feel supported by the community and empowered by education, not stigmatized by it. Sex shaming curriculums and attitudes only serve to further alienate survivors, who instead should be taught to value their own decisions and bodies, receive resources on STD prevention and birth control options, and feel comfortable talking to adults they trust about their experiences.
Your sexual health and the ability to make your own sexual choices are important, and the topics surrounding consent, STD prevention and birth control are vital to your self worth and identity – whether or not you are receiving adequate information from the adults in your life.
If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, you are not a “chewed piece of gum.” You deserve to feel supported and to have access to the resources that will inform you and help you to feel safe again. You are not alone. You are not ruined.
For survivor support information, visit RAINN.org. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call 1-800-273-TALK or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. For more information regarding sexual health and autonomy, visit plannedparenthood.org and scarleteen.org. Please – help share these resources with your friends and loved ones.