Addressing Sexual Trauma through Systemic Approaches

Emerging Career Professionals
Emerging Career Professionals
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Maria Espinola &

Kamala Nelson

Section Editor:

Shavonne Moore-Lobban

SEXUAL VIOLENCE IS A SERIOUS PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE. Approximately 43.6% of women and 24.8% of men in the United States report experiencing some type of sexual violence throughout their lifetime. Over 21% of women and 2.6% of men report completed or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime (Smith et al., 2018). A large body of research has shown that exposure to sexual violence increases the risk for negative mental and physical health outcomes, substance abuse, unemployment, incarceration and homelessness.

Despite its high prevalence and the detrimental impacts of sexual violence, psychologists are trained to take a reactive approach as opposed to a proactive approach to this problem. Although therapy can help survivors overcome the trauma symptomatology that results from sexual violence, it does not address the systemic issues that allow for sexual abuse to occur in the first place. Similarly, though it is very helpful to conduct research on the association between sexual abuse and a broad range of negative outcomes, this does not necessarily lead to systemic changes.

We emphasize the need to bring advocacy efforts that promote evidence-informed policy to the forefront. It is consistent with the mission of the American Psychological Association to advance the application of psychological science and knowledge to benefit society. The field of trauma psychology has accumulated enough knowledge to, at this point, prioritize systemic approaches to help prevent and treat trauma. As we face crises in mental health, violence, opioid addiction and homelessness around the country, all exacerbated by the current economic crisis, early career trauma psychologists should no longer be trained to expect that individual therapy alone would be a solution to these problems.

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