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Guest column | Dr. Mark J. Yacht

Cruel April right time to confront sexual abuse

The poet T. S. Eliot called April the cruelest month due to the trauma of new growth breaking through the soil, a metaphor for birthing pain. I welcome spring that follows this prolonged Florida winter. The generation of new life elevates the spirit and offers the opportunity to renew.

Among those acknowledged during April are victims of sexual abuse. With enhanced stresses on families due to hard economic times, there is an increased risk of victimization. A wage earner's loss of work and benefits can trigger frustration, anger and violent behavior. Spouses, children and significant others can be the target of erupting emotions from unanticipated reversals of fortune.

Our colleges and secondary schools are often sites for violence against women with students taking inappropriate liberties with girlfriends or casual dates. Far more sexual abuse incidents occur in our schools than reported. Seniors now face a tough job market and unexpected career detours can be expressed with alcohol consumption, drug use, anger and violence against women.

It is estimated that 20 to 25 percent of college women in the United States experience attempted or complete rape during their college career.

Sexual abuse starts early. Teens 16 to 19 were 3.5 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Of the women who reported being raped at some time in their lives, 21 percent were younger than 12 years of age.

It is suggested that 86 percent of adolescent sexual assaults go unreported. Victims of rape are seven times more likely to be raped again, and sexual offenders often show a history of being abused. Most lawbreakers feel guilt and self loathing but will repeat their actions. Such guilt offers little solace to the seriously injured, dead partner, or targeted child.

Young females of both college and high school age are targets along with wives, children and significant others. Female victims typically know their attackers and often have sex again with the men who attacked them.

Americans like to say, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." Unfortunately, that may manifest as sexual abuse or domestic violence. Whatever the motivation, the people who are closest to the perpetrator are at increased risk for beatings and rape.

Although we can pride ourselves as a nation that addresses equal work opportunity for females, we have not accomplished enough to thwart child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault. Women are overwhelmingly the victims. More recently communities have worked more effectively with law enforcement to openly deal with violence issues. However, confrontation is too often used to resolve disputes.

Mutual respect for the sexes and acceptable behavior should be instilled early at home and in school. Inappropriate anger and brutal behavior must be identified and resources to address such behavior available within communities. Sadly, mental health services are typically overwhelmed. That, along with the increasing numbers of health uninsured, leaves too many bereft of services.

Aside from the need to immediately protect a victim and arrest a perpetrator, there is a need to understand the conditions that prevail that promote an atmosphere of vicious behavior. Preventive services are inadequate. It's the old story of having the ambulance at the mountain's bottom collecting falling victims. Needed is a fence at the top to prevent falls in the first place.

Resolving a casual attitude of violence toward women and aberrant behavior poses great challenges.

Until we address what causes this nation's historical penchant for mob violence, rioting, lynching, range wars, vigilantism, gang wars, political assassinations and sexual violence, we will keep picking up the bodies.

As we acknowledge the victims of sexual abuse in April, it is also a time to energize the commitment to provide necessary services to effect prevention in the long term.

For more information on services available in Pasco County, contact Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Center at 1-888-668-RAPE (7273) or www.sunrisepasco.org. The Florida Hotline number is 1-800-500-1119 or for the hearing impaired 1-800-621-4202.

Dr. Marc J. Yacht is the retired director of the Pasco County Health Department.

Cruel April right time to confront sexual abuse 04/01/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 7:18pm]

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