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- Responding to Sexual Violence
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Suicidality and Sexual Violence
When addressing suicide awareness in the context of sexual violence exposure, it is important to address not only the characterization and incidence of suicidal thoughts and behaviours (STB) post- incident but also those subpopulations most at-risk of STB following an incident of sexual violence.
Recent literature has demonstrated that survivors of sexual violence are at a significantly higher risk of mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and suicidal behaviour. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that suicidal ideation (thoughts considering or planning suicide) and suicidal behaviour are common for individuals following incidents of sexual assault. In fact, many institutions currently mandate post-incident suicide-risk assessments as a component of their sexual assault medical forensic examinations. One study found that following exposure to intimate partner violence, 8% of survivors make a suicide attempt. Thus, it remains important for sexual violence offices and mental health counsellors to conduct consistent and compassionate assessments of suicidal ideation following incidents of sexual violence, particularly for both individuals newly experiencing suicidal ideation, and high-risk populations.
Research has demonstrated that some factors such as age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and psychological symptoms (such as depression or PTSD) are associated with increased rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Young adults aged 15-24 disproportionately experience higher incidences of all forms of violence, including sexual violence, which have been shown to have severe consequences for their health and social outcomes. In particular, young adults belonging to gender and ethnic minorities are at an increased risk both of experiencing sexual violence and of suicidal thoughts and behaviours. These populations of young adults often face barriers to accessing mental health services, disconnection from community supports, and a lack of suicide prevention and stigma- reduction strategies. Additionally, one study demonstrated that suicidal ideation was 2.7 times higher in female post-secondary students who had been survivors of sexual violence. Due to the barriers these populations face within society, existing mechanisms for reporting also present a risk for these individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Another study illustrated that risk of suicidal behaviour in survivors is elevated upon contact with police following exposure to forms of violence, including sexual violence.