The effects of sexual harassment on children
MANILA, Philippines – Breaking your silence after being sexually harassed takes a lot of courage.
Fil-Am Josiah Weihman took 14 years before he broke his silence on his experience of sexual harassment involving his former basketball coach Leo Arnaiz during his playing days in high school. (READ: Baguio high school basketball coach accused of sexual harassment)
All those years, he felt he had no one to talk to. "I was keeping it inside forever," he told Rappler.
Clinical psychologist Karina Therese Fernandez, executive director of Ateneo Bulatao Center for Psychology Services, explained that stories of sexual harassment or abuse are devastating.
"If it's somebody you trust, you know, or is part of the family, the effects are more devastating," Fernandez told Rappler. (READ: The many faces of sexual harassment in PH)
She further explained that the effects are more damaging than being harassed by a stranger. In the case of Weihman, she said it's more scarring because the perpetrator is his coach.
"It's more devastating than some stranger in the dark because to begin with, when you abuse a child, it's trust that you break," she added.
The effects on a child as he grows up can vary. Fernandez said the most common long-term effect of sexual abuse is depression.
In some cases, Fernandez also said social problems can arise from the experience. She said a person can have trust issues growing up or have problems in developing deeper interpersonal relationships.
Some victims also have problems maintaining intimate relationships. Fernandez explained that some are indisposed during sex. (READ: Rappler Talk: How do we end sexual harassment?)
"Sometimes sex becomes disgusting for them, or they feel numbed like they're emotionally dispensed during sex. Sometimes they feel that it's inappropriate. They have problems in sexual intimacy," she said.
Developing post-traumatic stress disorder is another common effect of sexual abuse. Victims may tend to experience physiological effects such as migraine while others tend to be forgetful: "There's some who don't remember parts of it or sometimes the actual experience itself. They repress it or sometimes it appears in their nightmares as flashbacks."
Fernandez adds the victims tend to be vigilant so they can prevent such occurrences from happening again.
Fernandez also said sexual harrassment also affects how victims view themselves.
She explained, "They sometimes feel that the experience was their fault it happened to them. There could be issues with self-esteem and of feeling ashamed of it. They feel bad enough for themselves: 'Am I dirty? Am I a bad person?'"
The experience could also result in body issues. There are cases that some develop eating disorders but Fernandez said that this is more common in women.
To counter these effects, Fernandez said having a safe environment that enables victims to share their experiences can help them move forward in life.
"You have to create a positive environment for the individual to feel safe and talk about it – that they don't feel afraid, vulnerable, or that someone will mock them or tell them they are not telling the truth," she said. (READ: Everyone is talking about sexual harassment and this is why you should, too)
"The space has to be accepting, emphatic, and validating. It's important to process the anger they feel and know that it's not their fault," she added.
Fernandez further explained that guiding victims will also help them establish trust again.
"Guide them and help them that people can still be trusted and have intimate relationships as well," Fernandez said.
According to a study by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in 2016, one in 5 children are sexually harassed in the Philippines. (READ: Most child abuse cases in PH happen at home – study)
The study showed more males were sexually abused in school and the community. Unwanted sexual touching was the most common form of sexual violence manifested, and this was done either verbally, through the giving of gifts or favors, or through attempts to drug or give a victim alcohol. – Rappler.com