An alarming one in three victims of sexual assault will entertain serious thoughts of suicide. 13% of sexual assault victims will attempt suicide. The reality is that these statistics are likely low, perhaps even significantly so. A number of sexual assault victims don’t report the crime for reasons that include feeling ashamed about the incident. On top of that, some experts believe that a notable percentage of suicide attempts and completed suicides aren’t reported as well. There are a number of facts and factors that people need to be aware of when it comes to victims of sexual assault and suicidal thoughts following the crime.

Suicidal Thought Versus Suicidal Ideation

A helpful distinction can be made between suicidal thought and suicidal ideation. Suicidal thought is a situation in which an individual may give some consideration to the idea of taking his or her life. Suicidal ideation is suicidal thought coupled with a person taking affirmative steps towards taking his or her own life.

The Timing of Suicidal Thoughts Following a Sexual Assault

A major misconception friends and family members have about sexual assault victims and suicide is associated with time. A majority of friends and family members of victims of sexually assault conclude that is “time has passed” the victim is out of the “danger zone” when it comes to suicide.

The reality is that whilst victims of sexual assault can have suicidal thoughts and ideations in the direct aftermath of the crime they can also experience suicidal thoughts and ideations at a future time. This includes a future date a considerably distance in time from the sexual assault itself. Thus, it is crucial to note that the passage of time alone does not mean that a victim of sexual assault is not longer at risk to experience suicidal thoughts and ideations.

Childhood Sexual Assault and Suicidal Thoughts and Ideations

An alarming reality of sexual assault and suicide involves children who’ve been sexually victimized. A survivor of sexual abuse as a child or adolescent is between two to four times more likely to take his or her life. The incidence of suicide in this type of situation is higher if the perpetrator is a family member. Sexual abuse by a clergy member is comparable to a relative because a priest or minister is in a unique position of trust.

Five Myths About Sexual Assault Victims and Suicide

There are five prevalent myths associated with suicide and people with suicidal thoughts and ideations. These myths tend to be particularly pronounced when the individual with suicidal thoughts of ideations has been the victim of some type of sexual assault. These five myths are:

  • People who talk about suicide don’t follow through
  • A person who harbors suicidal thoughts is “crazy”
  • If a person is determined to take his or her life, nothing can stop that individual
  • People who contemplate suicide are unwilling to seek help
  • Raising the issue of suicide with a sexual assault victim may give that person ideas

People Who Talk About Suicide Don’t Follow Through

It is true that there are individuals who threaten suicide but don’t have an immediate intent to take steps towards taking their lives. Having said that, a persistent myth about suicide is that people who talk about suicide do not follow through and take their lives.

In fact, in most cases of attempted or completed suicide, a person gives clues and even overt warnings of his or her intent to take his or her own life. This includes a person who has been the victim of sexual assault. A person who talks about suicide is not an individual who won’t take steps towards ending his or her life. Thus, if you have someone in your life who is talking about suicide or the hopelessness of his or her life, you need to take these statements seriously and not brush them off.

A Person Who Harbors Suicidal Thoughts is “Crazy”

Another prevalent myth about suicide and victims of sexual assault is that a person who harbors suicidal thoughts is “crazy.” In fact, the vast majority of victims of sexual assault who contemplate suicide are neither psychotic or insane. They may be depressed. They may be extremely upset or grief stricken. However, sexual assault victims with suicidal thoughts and ideations are not likely to be laboring under a psychosis or similarly profound mental health condition or illness. 

If a Person Is Determined to Take His or Her Life, Nothing Can Stop That Individual

Yet another persistent myth about victims of sexual assault and suicidal thoughts and ideations is that is a person is determined to take his or her life, nothing can stop that individual from doing so. In fact, even a severely depressed individual will have mixed feelings about death. A person who attempts to take his or her life typically wavers between wanting to die and staying alive until the very last moment. The impulse to take one’s own life does not life forever. Thus, there are ways in which an individual harboring suicidal thoughts or even ideations can be stopped from acting on them.

People Who Contemplate Suicide Are Unwilling to Seek Help

A common myth surrounding people with suicidal thoughts or ideations is that they are not willing to seek professional help. In fact, about 50% of people who took their lives sought out professional assistance at some point in time within six months prior to their deaths. Thus, supporting an individual laboring under suicidal thoughts or ideations in seeking professional assistance is a valuable course to take.

Raising the Issue of Suicide With a Sexual Assault Victim May Give That Person Ideas

Finally, a recurring myth surrounding the issue of suicide and a victim of sexual assault is that raising the issue of suicide with such an individual will give that person “ideas.” In fact, a person is not “given the idea” to take his or her life when a friend or family member raises the subject. In fact, when a loved one broaches the subject of suicide in a caring, non-accusatory manner to a victim of sexual assault, the friend or family member is opening the door to a thoughtful discussion – which is a helpful step to take in support of a sexual assault victim.