Rape Culture and Teen Addiction
According to recent statistics, one in every five women and one in every 71 men will become a victim of rape at some point in their lives. Rape isn’t limited to unwanted sex between a person and a stranger, either. In fact, over half of female sexual assault victims indicate that they were raped by someone that they knew, often an intimate partner or acquaintance. Unfortunately, in the United States, we have begun to experience what is known as a rape culture, where rape has become so prevalent and perpetuated through objectification that it has also led to other issues, including a rise in teen addiction.
From misogynistic language to the objectification of women’s bodies and the television and theatrical glamorization of sexual violence, we have experienced further shifts in society that have worked against the right of a woman (or man) to be safe. Rape culture has an impact on all women, even if they have not been the subject of rape or sexual violence. When one woman is raped, it creates a fear in all women, and even in many men.
Examples of rape culture
It may be challenging to understand precisely what rape culture is. The below examples are all prevalent in today’s world, where sexual violence has become trivialized.
- A common blaming of the victim by indicating that she asked for it, or she didn’t say no
- Trivializing of sexual assault with such comments like, “he was just a boy” or “boys will be boys”
- Rampant sexually explicit jokes
- An ongoing tolerance of sexual harassment in the workplace and in other public spaces
- The public scrutinization of what the victim was wearing, her mental state at the time of the rape, her motives or intentions, and her history of sexual behavior
- Sexual violence depicted in movies and on television
- Ongoing gender stereotypes that demonstrate a man as dominant and sexually aggressive with the woman was submissive and passive
- Pressure on men from their friends to score and have sex with more women
- An assumption that only sexually active or promiscuous women get raped
- The failure to take accusations of rape seriously
The link between rape culture and addiction
According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault is defined as any sexual behavior or contact with another person that is unwanted by that receiving person. As so many sexual assaults go unreported for fear of the publicity or stigma that goes along with it, many offenders never see the inside of a jail cell as an action for their sexual crimes. For this reason, many sexual assault victims feel overwhelmed and often imprisoned by their trauma.
Those who have experienced sexual abuse or rape are far more likely than the average person to experience depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. And, those that experience the lingering adverse effects of such a crime often seek coping mechanisms that can help them to take the pain or memory away. Substance abuse often becomes that coping mechanism, especially when victims are unable to seek out treatment from a trained professional.
This method of turning to substance abuse as a coping mechanism has strong links to teen addiction. Teens turn to alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal drugs as a way of escaping the memory, and to self-medicate. When they are using these substances, teens can temporarily push away feelings of loneliness or poor self-esteem. Unfortunately, substance abuse can also lead to self-harm and other self-destructive behaviors.
Studies have shown that those who have experienced some form of rape or sexual trauma at least once are more likely to become a victim of substance abuse. And, for every one of these traumatic sexual experiences, the victim’s likelihood to suffer from substance abuse increases two to four times. Further, for those who have been a victim five or more times, their possibility to turn to drugs and alcohol increases seven to ten times. If that isn’t alarming enough, consider that nearly two-thirds of IV drug users can point back to abusive or otherwise traumatic events in their childhood.
Consider these additional facts, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
- 75% of women and men in substance abuse treatment programs report past experiences with abuse and trauma.
- 97% of women who are homeless, with mental illness, report severe physical or sexual abuse.
- 12-34% of individuals in substance abuse treatment also experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Approximately one-third of those exposed to sexual trauma will develop PTSD.
- Men tend to report higher incidences of trauma, whereas women are more likely to develop PTSD.
As a result of rape culture, people who have survived sexual violence often feel uncomfortable talking about their trauma or reaching out for help with it and so they struggle underneath the weight of that trauma and develop addictions that often go unchecked.
How to recognize if your teen is a victim of rape or sexual abuse
Very rarely is a sexual abuse victim able to entirely mask their response to a sexually traumatic event. As such, parents should be mindful of the following behaviors, which might indicate that their teen has experienced such a situation.
- Withdrawal from social activities that the teen usually enjoyed or participated in
- Changes in interests
- Sharp changes in mood
- Unusual changes in appearance
- A draw towards sexually promiscuous behavior
- Substance abuse
Treatment for teen addiction due to sexual abuse
Recovering from sexual abuse and rape requires a very specialized form of treatment, especially when substance abuse and teen addiction is added to the equation. Rape victims often feel shame, depression, guilt, and even terror. In many cases, they blame themselves that they became victims and find that drugs and alcohol can give them a reprieve or an emotional escape.
Those who have experienced rape or other forms of sexual abuse are more likely to turn to other undesirable behaviors as a way to mask their feelings. Fortunately, when these victims can find the right treatment program, they have a high likelihood to heal and lead a normal and healthy lifestyle. Rape survivors can learn healthy coping strategies that will set them on the right path forward.
For those who have been the victim of rape or another form of sexual abuse, quick intervention is necessary. The more immediate the response and support that the victim receives, the less likely that the victim will fall to these other behaviors. And, the sooner that the victim gets help, the more likely that he or she will be able to discuss their situation and experience openly without being subject to judgment.
Victims of sexual abuse need to be able to trust the person that they are seeking help from. By initiating a relationship with a trained sexual abuse counselor early on after the incident, the counselor will have a better opportunity to develop a rapport with the victim.
Types of treatment for sexual abuse and teen addiction
Treatment for sexual-related traumas are often customized to the victim. Though immediate intervention will provide the best path to recovery, long-term therapy is often the most beneficial. Common interventions include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Somatic Experiencing (SE)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder-related psychotherapy
A critical component to this treatment involves providing the survivor with the opportunity to tell his or her story without risk of judgment. Providing a victim with the opportunity to tell their story and recall the details of the situation without interruption or poorly timed questions can help them to let go of the connection of the event to who they are as a person. Law enforcement professionals and counselors also are trained to allow the victim to provide their story without interruption so that they can take into account critical details, only asking clarifying questions at the end.
Because sexual abuse and related traumas are so terrifying for the victim, many turn to self-medication/drug abuse instead of seeking professional help. Victims may feel embarrassed to ask for help, especially in matters of sexual abuse by a family member.
In most situations, teen treatment programs for sexual abuse (when not combined with teen addiction) will consist of either an in-patient or residential program or an out-patient setting.
- Out-patient – In this type of treatment program, teens will attend classes and therapy sessions and will also check-in with a medical provider as needed. This type of program is an excellent solution for teens who are unable to step away from school fully. And, as a residential solution is not included, this approach can be less expensive.
- In-patient (residential) – In this program, teens will actually reside within a treatment center for the duration of their treatment. This program is highly effective for victims of sexual abuse that are also victims of teen addiction. In an in-patient scenario, the victim is safely removed from triggers related to the incident that they experienced, and are unable to access the alcohol or drugs that they sought out as a coping mechanism. In this setting, patients are able to receive help 24 hours per day and seven days per week. Medical care is provided to patients to help combat the physical reactions that are tied to the removal of the addictive substances. Further, trained medical providers can keep watch on patients to identify deadly withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and benzodiazepines. Residential treatment settings include all necessary meals, living items, and care around the clock. These treatment options are more expensive, but they do allow the patient to focus entirely on their recovery without distraction.
Recovering from rape and substance abuse
The recovery from a single incident or multiple incidences of sexual abuse will be a long and difficult journey as rape culture makes it difficult to heal. However, recovery is possible, and patients can look forward to a life with a sense of normalcy. Patients who dedicate their time and energy into their recovery at each stage of the process will experience the most success in setting the stage for their new standard of living.
If you are a teenager – or have a teenager – dealing with substance abuse and other trauma as a result of sexual violence, know that you have options for treatment. Hillcrest is here and our dedicated staff knows how hard it can be to heal from trauma and addiction. Reach out today to find out how we can help!