Sexual abuse is a very serious public health problem over the world. While there is no universally accepted definition for sexual abuse, National Institute of Health (NIH) defines sexual abuse as any unwelcome sexual advances, solicitation for sexual favors and other physical or verbal behaviors of a sexual nature. Any person is at the risk of being sexually abused, but women and children are the most disadvantaged. In most cases, men are the perpetrators, but that is not to say that women cannot be perpetrators either. Moreover, the perpetrators are usually people that are well known to the victims including co-workers, relatives, friends or neighbors.
Sexual abuse may come in different forms and manifestations ranging from physical contact between the perpetrators and the victims, threats, sexual harassment, peeping and taking nude photos (Pope et al., 1996). Information about the cases of sexual abuse is stupefying and serves to project it as really a public health problem anywhere in the world. Vast empirical evidence casts sexual abuse as among the most serious health and social problems. These facts include but are not limited to:
- In the United States, a nationwide survey revealed that an approximated 8% of the students questioned reported having been coaxed to have sex.
- An approximated 20% to 25% of the college female students reported having experienced failed or complete rape during their college lives.
- One out of every six women and one in every thirty three men reported having undergone sexual assaults in their lives.
- Yet, another survey by Centre for Disease Control (CDC, 1990) revealed that 32 percent of their employees were victims of unwanted sexual advances in the past one year alone and that employees filed formal twenty and thirty two informal complaints between 1990 and 1994. Sadly, all these complaints were filed by females alone. Another unfortunate thing concerning this report is that the victims identified their supervisors and top management officials as the perpetrators. Co-workers were identified as perpetrators too though incidents involving co-workers were considerably few.
These statistics may seem negligible at a glance but considering that they are from a single country, it means that the world statistics may be worrying. It becomes a matter of global concern, which calls for concerted efforts if the fight against sexual violence is to be worn. A number of factors have been given as the main reason why sexual violence has been so rampant despite numerous efforts by stakeholders to fight it.
To start with, majority of the cases go unreported as victims may either be afraid of what the perpetrators may do in retaliation, they have no faith with the authority they report to owing to the fact that these authorities did not demonstrate commitment in dealing with similar cases before or probably because the victims sympathize with the perpetrators.
Another reason, which has been given to justify why the victims refuse to report such cases is that in most cases, sexual abuses result in very ugly scenarios that the victims find very difficult to put up with. To avoid such ugly incidents, they just decide of their own volition not to report to the authorities.
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Also, cases of the perpetrators’ compensating the victims in order to buy their silence on the matter are as well an explanation why these cases have been so rampant. In addition, society permissiveness is another factor that is to blame for the unprecedented increase in cases of sexual abuse. In some cultures, for instance, women are regarded as being inferior to their male counterparts and are such not permitted to tell on their male friends, relatives, spouses or co-workers, who visit indecent acts on them.
Lethargic legislations in most countries, where the perpetrators get very lenient sentences, or none at all, is again another contributing factor to the rampant increase of cases of sexual abuse. The effect of lack of stringent laws to deal with cases of sexual indecency inculcates a culture of ‘sexual recklessness ’as it were in the perpetrators or would-be perpetrators.
Sexual abuse is not only unlawful, but also a reflection of moral decadence in the society. For this reason, the civil society in unison with the governments should explore if not put legal structures in place to combat this moral mess. The society should, in fact, cultivate a culture of responsibility, which in essence means that under no one particular circumstance should they condone sexual abuse in whichever form in the society. All said and done, what mechanisms are available both locally and internationally to help curb this menace?
According to CDC-GOV, an online communication channel that avails to the public credible and reliable information on heath matters, a sexual abuse prevention mechanism otherwise known as the approach is available. This CDC approach has 4-step approach to address public health concerns like sexual abuse.
- Step 1: Definition of the Problem.
Before the fight against sexual abuse can be worn, a better understanding of how big problem is, where it is and whom it affects is vital. CDC understands a problem by analysis of the available data on sexual abuse.
- Step 2: Risk and Protective Factor Identification.
It is not sufficient to know that sexual violence affects a given section of the population but why this is the case. CDC administers research to provide an answer to this question.
- Step 3: Development and test prevention strategies.
By using information from the aforementioned researches, CDC evaluates strategies to prevent sexual abuse.
- Step: 4 specific and universal adoptions.
CDC shares the most appropriate prevention adoption. Under certain circumstances, CDC may also provide funding or logistical aid to help communities adopt these strategies.
Public health approaches do not only address concerns like sexual abuse by ensuring the health of an individual but that of the entire population as well (CDC, 2010). Sexual abuse is the issue that not only affects the victim, but also the perpetrators, the families and the societies around them. Sexual abuse is just one of the social issues that public health approach aims at and which underscores the importance of prevention before sexual abuse. A public health approach that lay emphasis on prevention has the ability to reduce the number of sexual offenders in the society as well as sexual victimization in the society.
Public health approach aims to prevent harm by identifying and minimizing the risk factors that may result in the perpetration as well as the victimization of sexual abuse. It also picks up and strengthens protective factors that may forestall the growth of sexually abusive behaviors and susceptibility to victimization. Avenues, through which risk factors may be reduced, include personal and societal skills deficits, family malfunction, negative peer pressure, adverse society living atmosphere and misappropriate communal messages (NIMH, 1996). Reinforcing protective factors to increase the potential to forestall victimization and perpetration may involve integration in our school curricular trainings that bolster interpersonal skills for boys and young males or execution of mass campaigns against all forms manifestations and forms of sexual abuse.
It is worthwhile noting that only a few public health preventions programs have thus far been sufficiently evaluated to gauge their efficacy and offer a way forward for the widespread execution. The CDC, besides a number of other federal agencies in the United States, lobbies for ‘serious research with tangible implications for achieving health impact’ (CDC, 2010).
Public health field commonly works hands in gloves with necessary partners, who may include parents, educators, organizations, the media, nongovernmental organization and others for maximum success in the fight against sexual violence. Public health sexual abuse prevention framework recognizes the importance of personal, institutional, social, political and cultural factors in reducing if not entirely eliminating sexual abuse menace. The ecological model underlines the importance of focusing not singularly on personal risk but a pool of factors that encourage sexual abuse (CDC, 2010). Public health tries to underscore and, in fact, impress upon the society to take it upon itself and to undertake to stop sexual abuse discarding norms that are primitive and embracing modernity both within relationships and communities as well and standing firmly against sexual abuse in its whichever form of rape, sexual violence, incest and what have you.
In conclusion, every person in their own small way should strive to have a society that is free of sexual molestation by ensuring and recognizing the fact that everyone is under obligation, from a moral point of view, to combat it. The governments and their instruments of governance should see that sexual abuse is criminalized by way of legislation. Precedence should be set right for any case brought before the court of law so that potential perpetrators may refrain from this. If this is done, the world will surely be a good place for us and the society will be clean in the eyes of man and God.