Did you know that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month? It is...and what we know about sexual assault in our country is staggering. Just so we are all on the same page, "sexual assault" is defined as any sexual activity between two or more people in which one of the individuals is involved against his or her will. Sexual assault may include anything from unwanted sexual touch to sexual penetration. It includes childhood sexual abuse, date rape, stranger rape, military sexual assault and the sexual exploitation often seen in the human trafficking of both children and adults.

Some studies now place the estimated number of individuals who will be sexually assaulted prior to their 18th birthday at 1 in 3 for females and 1 in 7 for males...and the thinking is that these figures may even be conservative. Having worked with sexual trauma survivors for more than 20 years as a therapist, I can tell you that I believe they are. So many individuals and families are affected in some way by sexual assault in one form or another. So many of them suffer in silence.

A recent National Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice found that 76% of women who were sexually assaulted were assaulted by people they knew with only 18% perpetrated by strangers. Some victims feel that they cannot tell anyone what has happened (or what is still happening) because the perpetrator still has contact with them and is often in a position of power within their lives. They are afraid of reprisal or simply fear that they will not be taken seriously. Statistically, perpetrators of sexual assault against both men and women have been found to be males who, contrary to some misinformed popular belief, identify themselves as heterosexual... many of them married with families. In fact, some 86% of males who were sexually assaulted were victimized by another male. Males, in particular, may find speaking out to be very difficult because of the fear of having their victimization misunderstood by society, in general. Still, the effects are real. Depression, lowered self-esteem, shame, guilt, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, eating disorders and PTSD are just some of the typical issues sexual assault survivors may experience.

Sexual abuse, rape, military sexual assault and human trafficking are all terms we each hear almost daily in the news or read about online or in the media. Knowing what sexual assault is and how to get help if you or someone you know has been victimized is extremely important. The following links are to 2 articles published by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. One is about sexual assault against females (http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/sexual-assault-females.asp), the other is about sexual assault against males (http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/men-sexual-trauma.asp). I believe both contain very good information which everyone should know and I encourage you to read them. With regard to human trafficking, I highly recommend the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition website (www.bhtc.us) for further educational resources. Sexual exploitation via human trafficking of both children and adults is at epidemic proportions and we all need to know how to recognize it and what we can do to stop it.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, Help is available. Call us. Talk to us. We will listen.

Lorisa P. Lewis, MS, LMHC