Sexual violence is a global “epidemic” that causes devastating consequences for whole families as well as society, according to humanitarian organizations. For some time, the month of April has been designated as the time of the year to raise awareness about the harmful scope of this type of crime. While efforts are being made to eradicate it, much remains to be done.
Sexual violence can occur inside, as well as outside the home, and a large percentage of the victims are women. Not only does this refer to rape, but also to practices such as female genital mutilation, which still occurs in some countries and increases the risk for infections and death. Furthermore, human trafficking for the purposes of prostitution against the victim’s will is another vicious practice of sexual violence.
According to a report by the International Development Bank, rape and domestic violence impact the life and health of women ages 15 to 44 more than breast or cervical cancer, wars or car accidents.
The statistics are disturbing. For example, every hour in the United States about 80 women are victims of rape. In some cases, the rapist may even be the spouse forcing his wife to have sexual relations.
In some countries, like Sweden, this is punishable as an attack on the integrity of women and it is sanctioned even more severely than when the same actions are committed by strangers. In countries like Mexico, sexual violence by husbands against their partners is being considered a crime for the first time.
According to reports, a person may be the victim of rape at any age, including at a mature age, but about 80 percent are under 25.
“The abuser does not seek sexual satisfaction, but to exercise their power in order to control the victim. Usually it is a man with traumas, because all behavior is learned, but what is learned can be ‘unlearned.’ Then, same as the victim — who I prefer to call ‘the survivor’ — has the opportunity to seek help, the offender is also able to correct that criminal behavior which can cause so much damage,” says psychologist Ada Rivas-Mitchell.
According to the specialist, the survivor may have feelings of guilt, fear, anger, shame and a deteriorated sense of self-esteem.
According to studies, sexual assault is more common within the home than outside. And when the victim knows the attacker, they are rarely reported.
Men could also be exposed to sexual attacks, though it is more common during childhood and only a small percentage reports it.
“The violator does not have a specific physical, social or economic pattern; it can be anyone,” says Rivas-Mitchell. “The victims also do not follow a specific prototype. And we have seen that it is false that women dressed in a sexier manner are the main prey of these attacks.”
There are non-profit organizations, such as Peace Over Violence (formerly the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women), which provide free support services for survivors of violence, information and training to prevent and deal with the crime.
“We believe that self-defense is the most effective way to protect ourselves; counseling is the best way to deal with the consequences of an attack; and education is a vital resource to prevent abusive relationships,” according to the organization’s website.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), it is estimated that 100 million to 140 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
FGM consists of partial or total surgical removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the genitalia in order to force women to keep their virginity and control their sexual activity until marriage. These practices are extremely painful and put women at risk for infections that may even cost them their lives. In addition, it increases their susceptibility to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
In some countries, girls may undergo FGM before the age of 5.
As the practice of FGM becomes more widely known, it is becoming increasingly accepted that FGM violates the rights of girls and women.
UNICEF, along with UNFPA, codirects the world’s largest program for the elimination of female genital mutilation. It collaborates with governments, communities, religious leaders and other allies in order to help end the practice.
According to the Organización Internacional para la Migración (IOM), it is estimated that the profits generated by trafficking of women and children with the intention of sexual exploitation reaches about $10 billion annually. These sizeable profits that are being generated make this “business” continue to grow rapidly.
Due to their marginalized status and limited financial resources, poor women and girls are the main victims of sexual exploitation by organized trafficking groups.
Fortunately, religious groups and organizations such as the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) have become a major force against this crime. At the local level, they join forces and organize marches against human trafficking; inform and educate the community about this issue; and work with hotels across the country, which sign agreements committing themselves to train their staff to identify potential victims of sex tourism. They also help survivors with shelter, psychological assistance, counseling and training.
Currently, human trafficking survivors are eligible for a special visa (Visa T) that allows them to legally remain in the United States. After a few years, they can acquire the status of a legal permanent resident.
Assistance in cases of sexual and domestic violence
The following are some of the places that offer free, confidential assistance in cases of sexual assault and domestic violence. These may include mental health services, 24-hour hotlines, information, support, legal advice and defense, among other resources.
> Peace Over Violence (formerly LACAAW): (213) 626-3393, (626) 793-3385 or (310) 392-8381
> Rape Treatment Center (Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center):1-800-656-HOPE or 1-800-656-4673
> East Los Angeles Women’s Center: 1-800-585-6231 or (323) 526-5819
> Project Sister: (626) 966-4155
> YWCA Greater Los Angeles: 1-877-943-5778
> Valley Trauma Center: (818) 886-0453
Information about sexual exploitation
For information on human trafficking for sexual exploitation, go to: CastLA.org. This is the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) in Los Angeles, created by religious groups who work hard to combat this crime.
Know the signs of human trafficking
Human trafficking claims many young victims every year and, often, we see these victims in our daily lives. It is important to recognize the signs of abuse and to know how to interact with possible victims. The best way to start a tough conversation with teens who may be at risk is simply to talk to them — ask what’s going on in their lives and if they are okay. Signs of abuse include suspicious or inexplicable injuries, avoidance, or reliance on an older “friend.” For more information please visit www.missingkids.org/1in5.
Do you know someone who is being abused?
If you are being abused, have been abused, or know someone who is being abused, you can call Victims Assistance Ministry at 1-800-355-2545 for assistance to make a report, or seek help directly by contacting Child Protective Services. In the event of an emergency call 911.