Sexual Assault: Coping with a Traumatic Experience

July 20, 2023
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Sexual assault remains a delicate subject in society. Despite its prevalence, survivors often find it challenging to open up about their traumatic experiences. Fear and shame often force victims into silence. This inquiry seeks to explore the lasting negative impact of sexual assault on individuals within society. While many assume such assaults occur only in dimly lit alleys during late hours, the truth is that they can happen anytime, anywhere, even in broad daylight. Sexual assault involves the use of force to achieve sexual acts, encompassing unwelcome sexual comments, unauthorized touching, sexual threats, and more. Both men and women can fall victim to these heinous acts. In fact, according to the Government of Ontario, approximately 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are affected by sexual assault (Government of Ontario, 2016). The consequences of such trauma often lead to adverse impacts on mental health. However, there are numerous helplines and resources available to provide much-needed assistance to survivors.


Consent plays a pivotal role in all sexual activities. Without consent, any engagement becomes a form of sexual assault. To ensure consent, individuals should explicitly seek and receive verbal confirmation, avoiding assumptions or implications. It's important to note that a lack of communication cannot be taken as consent, even if outright denial is absent. Consent cannot be given when someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as such substances can impair judgment and decision-making. Moreover, consent is not a one-time occurrence; it must be obtained before every sexual activity (Government of Ontario, 2016). One's choice of clothing should never serve as an indicator of consent; personal preferences in clothing hold no correlation with giving consent. Unfortunately, young women are often subjected to sexual coercion and exploitation, creating a culture where they are pressured, threatened, and forced into unwanted sexual activities without their consent (French, Neville, 2017). This alarming reality stems from the sexualization of women in media, which perpetuates the objectification of women in society. Treating women as mere objects sends the message that society tolerates mistreatment towards them. It is crucial to be vigilant about media portrayals and ensure that such distorted information does not lead to the mistreatment or harassment of women.

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Impact on Mental Health

Mental health profoundly influences an individual's daily life, and sexual assault can significantly impact it, affecting their overall functioning. Survivors often experience severe anxiety and depression, which can manifest differently between men and women. Lisa M. Dario asserts that sexual assault ranks among the most traumatizing events a person can endure, resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, severe anxiety, constant fear, alcohol or drug abuse, and potential suicide attempts or ideation (Dario, 2018). The constant fear of another assault can be paralyzing, and many survivors choose not to share their traumatic experiences due to the fear of society's judgment. The mental health issues stemming from sexual assault can lead to adverse consequences in a survivor's life, possibly causing them to abandon their job, thus affecting their overall well-being and society at large. PTSD emerges as the most common disorder observed in sexual assault survivors (Hagene, 2015). The experiences of individuals like Chessy Prout, a sexual assault survivor and author of "I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope," shed light on the pain and dehumanization faced by victims (Entertainment Weekly, 2018). In some instances, survivors are unjustly blamed for not speaking up about their assault. This lack of support from society can exacerbate their mental health struggles, as they fear humiliation and further judgment for their silence (Entertainment Weekly, 2018).

How to Help

Society's perception is often influenced by misconceptions, commonly referred to as rape myths. To prevent sexual assault, it is crucial to dispel these myths with factual information. Contrary to popular belief, sexual assault is frequently perpetrated by individuals known to the victim, such as family members, partners, or casual acquaintances (Government of Ontario, 2016). Another myth is that if a woman does not physically resist, it cannot be classified as sexual assault. However, it is essential to understand that shock and fear can cause victims to freeze and make them unable to fight back. Additionally, the influence of alcohol or drugs might further impede their ability to resist. By educating ourselves and others about the reality of sexual assault, we can reduce the likelihood of such incidents occurring. Survivors in need of help can turn to sexual assault centers, which offer free information and counseling services. These centers are readily available in various locations throughout Ontario, including Hamilton (Government of Ontario, 2016). Helplines and resources are also accessible to both men and women. Even as bystanders, individuals can play a crucial role by intervening during incidents of sexual assault, providing support, contacting the police if necessary, and ensuring the safety of friends or family in vulnerable situations.

Becoming an ally is another effective way to help combat sexual assault. As allies, we must refrain from blaming the victims and instead focus on educating people of all ages about consent and the issue at hand. Various models of help can be employed, such as the medical model, where healthcare providers or counselors offer essential support to those undergoing trauma (VanCamp, 2019). Being available to listen and talk can make a significant difference in a survivor's life and prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.


In conclusion, sexual assault leaves a lasting impact on an individual's life, making it challenging for many to move forward. Coping with such a traumatic experience can affect their day-to-day living, social functioning, and adherence to societal norms. However, there is hope through helplines and counseling centers that aid in the healing process. While women are disproportionately affected by sexual assault, prevention strategies can help reduce future incidents (Government of Ontario, 2016). Educating friends, family, children, and elders about the reality of sexual assault fosters awareness and underscores the importance of vigilance in our surroundings. Mental health issues resulting from non-consensual sexual acts call for a medical model of intervention, wherein survivors can seek the help they need (VanCamp, 2019). By taking proactive measures and supporting survivors, we can work together to prevent sexual assault and create a safer society for all.

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