Victims of Sexual Violence in Impoverished Communities

By Erica Arambulo and Brianna Brown

Let's Unite Against Rape
Flickr [GCIS’s Day of Action Against Rape by GovernmentZA, February 11, 2013, CC BY-ND 2.0] retrieved on February 28, 2016
Incidents of sexual assault, especially rape, are significantly underreported in our society. The shame behind rape and sexual violence keeps many victims from seeking help and often times, upon seeking help, experience secondary victimization [2]. In the United States, nearly 1 in 3 women have survived physical violence, and 1 in 10 have survived rape [1]. Few victims have access to effective treatment plans and many avoid treatment altogether because of the culture of secrecy behind sexual assault. Rape victims are at a high risk of experiencing psychological and/or physical problems that can negatively impact their well-being. When experiencing problems such as psychological distress or medical issues, victims may lack the financial means to seek outpatient or inpatient services for recovery. Unfortunately, their recovery may heavily rely on barriers such as their socio-economic status and financial aptitude.

While all social classes experience violence, research suggests that people with lower socio-economic status are at greatest risk. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, persons in poor households below the Federal Poverty Level had more than double the rate of violent victimization as persons in high-income households [3]. Hence, it is pertinent that service professionals are aware of client demographics in an effort to fully understand the context of dysfunction. Facing many economic adversities, while processing traumatic aftereffects of sexual violence, can lead to long-term detrimental repercussions. If professionals lack an awareness and knowledge about diverse populations, backgrounds, and the social barriers that they face, professionals may overlook the best possible plan. Members of the military from lower income economic status who have been exposed to sexual assault may be less aware of the resources they have available. It is important to create an environment where such members can learn about the resources at their reach. In the military, members are more likely to face shame, guilt, anxious or distrust others when reporting the assault [2]. This can further expands their distrust towards the resources they have available. The environment for recovery must be sensitive and suitable for the needs of these victims. Meeting sexual assault and rape victims where they are, professionals are better equipped to provide necessary services to clients in a way that does not promote further harm, embarrassment, or shame.

To decipher this epidemic some researchers developed the “asset theory” which asserts that poverty and sexual assault reinforce each other in a cylindrical pattern. This cycle is initiated when the devastating physical, psychological, and behavioral consequences lowers one’s work performance, earnings, and create more economic instability for those who lack assets [4]. The cycle continues as the individual’s low asset/ income increases their risk of experiencing sexual violence. Those who are well off financially have the assets to recover from the trauma more so than the victims who are less financially established. Due to more stability, resources, and long-term relationship investments, marriage actually serves as a protective barrier against violence [5]. In impoverished communities, marriage is less common; especially in predominantly African American and Latino communities where there is a low female-to-male ratio [5]. More longitudinal research is needed to help mental health and other service professionals better understand the lack of resources available to clients residing in impoverished communities.

When encountering clients that are suffering from sexual violence we must be empathetically sensitive and aware of our clients’ needs. It is our responsibility to take a stand for our client’s safety, validate feelings of shame/secrecy, and strengthen their coping skills and support systems. Still, providing our clients with the appropriate resources and education to fit their needs is also an essential to recovery. Increasing “asset ownership” may be a key ingredient to decreasing the existence of sexual violence [4]. Micro-financing and financial empowerment of US women may also be promising alternative approaches to prevent violence overall in US impoverished communities [5]. Yet, there is still a dire need for financial literacy programs, culturally sensitive trainings and support services, and the creation of individual development accounts (IDAs) for poverty ridden individuals [4]. Now that you are knowledgeable of these implications, how will you raise public awareness to sexual violence services and policies in your community? What programs are available in your community for sexual violence victim? How will you choose to spread the word?

References

[1] Black, M. C., Basile, K. C., Breiding, M. J., Smith, S. G., Walters, M. L., Merrick, M. T., et al. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 summary report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[2] Campbell, R., & Raja, S. (2005). The sexual assault and secondary victimization of female veterans: help‐seeking experiences with military and civilian social systems. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29(1), 97-106.

[3] Harrell, E., Langton, L., Berzofsky, M., Couzens, L., & Smiley-McDonald, H. (2014). Household Poverty and Nonfatal Violent Victimization, 2008–2012. Retrieved from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/hpnvv0812.pdf

[4] Loya, R. M. (2014). The role of sexual violence in creating and maintaining economic insecurity among asset-poor women of color. Violence Against Women, 20(11), 1299-1320.

[5] Montgomery, B. E., Rompalo, A., Hughes, J., Wang, J., Haley, D., Soto-Torres, L., & Hodder, S. (2015). Violence against women in selected areas of the United States. American Journal of public health, (0), e1-e11.

This post was written by Erica Arambulo and Brianna Brown, guest bloggers for the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Erica and Brianna are masters-level marriage and family therapist (MFT) in training enrolled in the Marriage and Family Therapy Department at Valdosta State University. They also work as MFT interns at VSU’s FamilyWorks Clinic, a community-based family therapy clinic. You may find more about the authors, here. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD team on our website, on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.

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