If someone is subjected to a sexual act against their will, this is an assault. As a victim of sexual assault, it is common to feel guilt and shame, but it is important to dare to tell someone in order to be able to move forward.
What is a sexual assault?
A sexual assault means that one or more people take the liberty to subject someone to an abusive sexual act. This may take both psychological and physical form, and it is only the victim who can decide what is okay or not.
Physical assaults may take the form of rape or force to satisfy the perpetrator sexually. It may also take the form of touching that you have not given your consent to. A psychological assault may consist of sexist comments, or being forced to watch porn or someone performing a sexual act.
A sexual act with a child under the age of 15 is always illegal. An assault may happen once or multiple times, and the perpetrator often takes advantage of their position of power. It is common for children and teens to be abused by a parent, relative, teacher or neighbour who exploits the child’s lack of knowledge. Other power advantages regardless of age may be that the victim is physically weaker, drunk, ill or has a disability. Certain perpetrators consciously create a positive emotional relationship with the child who is then exploited.
You cannot tell that a person is capable of committing sexual assault by looking at them. The most common case is that one’s own partner crosses the line, and threats and violence are also common in these cases.
What effect may this have on someone’s life?
Above all, sexual assaults harm the victim psychologically. The event may burrow down deep into their self-esteem, damaging their self-respect and making it hard for them to trust other people.
Many people feel guilty about not saying “no” clearly enough and therefore blame themselves for the assault. Just because it feels this way that does not mean it is true. No matter what feelings or thoughts appear afterwards, it is always the perpetrator’s fault.
Many people feel ashamed and disgusted that the assault could happen and therefore have a hard time telling anyone about it. This leads to feelings of loneliness and doubt about their own experience. They may suffer from uneasiness, anxiety, depression, stress, sleep problems, anger and suicidal thoughts. For some people the symptoms may appear immediately, while for others it may take a long time.
Is it possible to feel better?
Although sexual assaults may cause great pain and leave deep traces on a person’s soul, there is a way to move forward. It is possible to take back control over your life. Telling someone about what happened and being believed can make you feel less lonely. Choose someone you trust or try to contact someone like a welfare officer or psychologist.
If a person is in a situation of sexual abuse right now, it may be even more difficult to dare to tell someone. If the person feels threatened, it is possible to make contact anonymously.
Where is help available?
If you suspect that you or someone you know has experienced an assault, contact a healthcare centre or emergency ward. There are also women’s and girls’ shelters around Sweden. If the case concerns a child, social welfare services are available.