The Monster Close to Home

April 2, 2010
Everyone has seen the headlines glittering the front pages of the newspaper. “Walden teacher accused of sexual assault”, “Racine Mayor Becker formally charged with sexual assault” (March 2010). Sexual assault is an issue that plagues our world day by day, and April is National Sexual Abuse Awareness Month.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), someone is sexually abused every two minutes in the United States alone; that’s 720 people every day, and over 262,000 people every year.

One in every four girls, and one in every seven boys will be sexually abused before they celebrate their eighteenth birthday, according to I Can’t Get Over It: A Handbook for Trauma Survivors. Sexual abuse is when a person takes advantage of someone through the use of physical force, threats, bribes, or a position of authority for the purpose of sexual abuse.

Mrs. Tamara Albrecht, a guidance counselor at Burlington High School in Burlington, Wisconsin, is a mandated reporter of sexual abuse cases, as all teachers and staff members are.

“I ask the person who is reporting the abuse to share as many details as possible so I can share the information with authorities. I also make sure the person reporting the incident is receiving the support he/she needs,” Albrecht said.

She files a formal, written report, which is then given to Human Services and/or law enforcement.

“The name, address, phone number, parent names of the victim and the perpetrator (if known), a description of the incident, and any other important information regarding the student’s school performance are all included in the report,” Albrecht said.

Dr. Cassandra Braam, Ph.D., who works for Clinical Psychology Associates in Burlington, WI, is a psychologist who is specially trained to deal with cases of rape and sexual abuse.

“The common symptoms of a rape case are: flashbacks, avoidance, and anxiety, which are all symptoms of a mental condition called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” Braam stated.

Victims of sexual abuse often suffer from low self-esteem.

“They view themselves as ‘damaged goods,’ or as feeling as though no one will ever be able to love them after learning of what has happened to them. Victims also have a heightened sense of guilt, which disrupts their belief systems,” Braam said.

In order to recover from an incident like this, there are both good and bad coping strategies. Identifying the symptoms, going to therapy or talking about the experience reduces one’s anxiety, which can change one’s belief systems; these are all good coping mechanisms. Bad coping mechanisms include abusing drugs and/or alcohol, engaging in inappropriate relationships, and self-harm, which includes but is not limited to cutting or burning oneself as a way to release the pain.

Common mental health conditions that arise from being rape or sexually abused are PTSD, depression and/or bipolar II disorder.

PTSD is the most common condition that arises from experiencing a traumatic event. Its symptoms include flashbacks to the event, avoidance of subjects one used to find joy in, having troubles sleeping and/or concentrating, a heightened sense of anxiety, and sudden floods of emotion.

Braam said, “When learning how to cope with rape and all of its repercussions, you’re going to become an expert in something you never wanted to become an expert in.”

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