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Rape Culture Destroys Survivors’ Mental Health Long After Sexual Abuse

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 12 Mar 2021 18:15
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Between 2018 and 2019, police forces across England and Wales recorded more than 181,000 reports of sexual offences – events that are likely to affect those thousands of people for many years to come.

A recent example of the detrimental effects sexual abuse can have on a person is the allegations surrounding Marilyn Manson. Over the past few weeks, several women have made allegations against the singer, claiming that he had sexually abused them in the past.

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Many of the women who have made these claims have said they have suffered with mental health issues ever since they endured the abuse. Sarah McNeilly, one of the claimants, has said that she’s suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues that have affected her ‘personal and professional relationships, self-worth and personal goals’.

Meanwhile, Ashley Lindsay Morgan stated that she’s had ‘night terrors, PTSD, anxiety, and mostly crippling OCD’ as a result of the alleged abuse.

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Christine Ambrose is another person who has suffered the long-term effects of rape and sexual abuse. Christine was sexually and physically abused as a child by her stepfather, and it resulted in her developing PTSD and an eating disorder.

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Now aged 52, Christine told UNILAD how the sexual abuse has taken its toll on her physical and mental health for ‘most of [her] life’. She explained, ‘I have to work everyday to control the impact of the resulting PTSD, and disordered eating on my health. Now in my early 50s, I feel it on a daily basis.’

‘While worst pieces of the eating disorder that made me so very sick came under control by age 30, the resulting obesity was and still is much harder to overcome. I know now it will be a lifelong battle, but it’s imperative to continue to strive to control it. Without this control, I face dangerously high blood pressure.’

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Christine continued:

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I look back and can’t help but feel deeply regretful of the physical toll it has taken on me. It took 15 years of my life to overcome the binging-purging piece of the eating disorder. I wish it could have put it into my past much sooner than I did.

Despite having experienced the abuse as a child, Christine didn’t report it to the police until 2016 which sparked a two-year investigation. The investigation resulted in her stepfather being charged.

While justice has been served against her stepfather, Christine told UNILAD that she still worries about her mental health but that she’s currently got a good support system to help her. She explained, ‘As far as the future and mental health, I fear depression most of all. I sunk deeply into that abyss several times before I left my twenties.’

‘It feels like a well-worn track that is easy to travel on again; comfortable to just zone out, get lost in the sadness, the hopelessness, so natural it feels, it scares me. However, so far, with the help from family, friends and community, it’s only been during natural times of sadness, such as a death, that it has beckoned for any longer than short periods.’

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Christine also emphasised the importance of opening up about your experiences and described sexual abuse as ‘secrets that should not be kept’. She concluded, ‘Reach out for help to those who love you and be wary of keeping crimes like sexual assault secret. These are secrets that should not be kept. They can make and keep you sick and the effects can spill unknowingly onto the next generation.’

Maureen Alikor Olubimo, 31, also sadly experienced sexual abuse at the hands of relative when she was just 11 years old. She was also raped at the age of 26 in a separate incident.

Discussing how this has gone on to affect her mental wellbeing, Maureen said to UNILAD, ‘Growing up, I knew nothing about mental health and how the sexual abuse impacted me, but as I got older and more enlightened, I was able to understand that the impact evident in my teenage years were attributed to a lot of things that happened in my life.’

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She continued:

I battled self-esteem issues, identity crisis, anxiety, shame and an occasional resentment for the opposite sex. I was also a lot withdrawn from myself, and others, and I always assumed I was less significant and unworthy of happiness and love. In many cases, I even battled self-blame and complacency with living.

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Maureen went on to explain that she turned to religion to help her with her personal transformation journey, and began to describe herself as a survivor rather than a victim. She explained, ‘My journey to becoming a survivor began when I knew I could live a life not limited by any experience, even rape. I began by learning about my identity in Christ.’

‘In my journey, I saw the importance of renewing my mind and thinking power and positive thoughts, if the healing and total recovery was going to be my reality, so I read books on how to battle for the mind, power thoughts, and also actively studied the Bible,’ Maureen continued.

‘I made a decision to be open about my experience and my journey. I gave myself the permission to use my voice: speak about my experience, reframe the narrative and intentionally began to declare myself a survivor.’

Maureen has since released a book called Quick First Aid Guide For Rape Victims which she describes as a ‘big-sister guide to every rape victim’. She has also pioneered a campaign named the Demystify Abuse Campaign, which provides support for rape and sexual abuse victims.

Counsellor Michelle Ruth spoke to UNILAD about how sexual abuse can affect a person and said it can be ‘devastating’.

She explained:

Sexual assault is deeply traumatic both physically and emotionally. If victims of sexual abuse are also silenced, the impact can be devastating.

It can bring about shame, guilt and all manner of complex emotions, which when added to the trauma itself can be carried deeply within the individual for years. The emotional trauma will often show up in physiological ways as well as in other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD and addiction, to name a few.

Michelle went on to say how seeking professional help can prove beneficial for survivors and can help them begin to healing process. She explained, ‘Counselling can give the survivor a safe space to explore what has happened to them with no judgement, no fear of shame and in a way that allows them to be truly heard. For them to finally be able to release what is often years of repressed emotion, is a very important thing.’

‘Once they feel able to explore what has happened to them, and how it may have played out in their life since, they can start to process, grieve, mourn and move forward with more robust coping mechanisms, and most importantly, begin to heal,’ she continued.

Michelle further advised that those looking to get help should seek out counselling with someone who has been specially trained or has experience dealing with survivors.

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact the Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline on 0808 802 9999 between 12pm–2.30pm and 7pm– 9.30pm every day. Alternatively, you can contact Victim Support free on 08 08 16 89 111 available 24/7, every day of the year, including Christmas.

Male Survivors Partnership is available to support adult male survivors of sexual abuse and rape. You can contact the organisation on their website or on their free helpline 0808 800 5005, open 9am–5pm Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays; 8am–8pm Tuesdays and Thursdays; 10am–2pm Saturdays.

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: Featured, Mental Health, Now, Sexual abuse, Sexual Assault