Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sexual Abuse and Obesity: Coincidence or Correlation?

I was sitting in one of the many support groups I attend and the topic of sexual abuse came up. I was telling a fellow member that I head the peer counseling department of Rape is Never Justified, an online organization that provides free peer support to male and female victims of sexual abuse. Several members shared that they have been victims of abuse in either childhood and adulthood, in some cases both. It got me thinking... Well actually I have been thinking about this correlation for a long time...

A couple of the interesting things I have noticed...

  1. National statistic say that 1 in 4 women are sexually abused. The stats I have seen around the bariatric community 5 years ago say 1 in 3 bariatric patients have been sexually abused. More recently I have seen stats that say 3 out 5 bariatric patients have reported sexual abuse at one point in their life. Striking coincidence or correlation?
  2. When selling T-shirts... The most sought after sizes are M and L for the general population. When we sell T-shirts for Rape is Never Justified, the most sought after sizes are XL and XXL. Interesting coincidence or correlation? 
This leads me to believe that there is more than a strange coincidence. There is a high correlation between sexual abuse and obesity... 

Many people who have been sexually abused either as a child or an adult may not have reported their abuse for one reason or another. Instead of healing, victims may turn to destructive methods of coping with their abuse. Many will turn to drugs, alcohol, self mutilation or possibly even promiscuous sexual behavior while others may develop an eating disorder... There are many reasons, I believe why there is such a high correlation between sexual abuse and obesity.The victim may be attempting to fill a void or even more commonly, trying to take back control and power in the only way they know how, food. As a child you don't have control of very many things in your life. But what you do or do not put in your mouth can be a source of control for a child who has been sexually abused. 

"Many survivors of sexual abuse often work to become very fat or very thin in an attempt to render themselves unattractive. In this way, they try to de-sexualize themselves. Other survivors obsessively diet, starve, or purge to make their bodies “perfect.” A perfect body is their attempt to feel more powerful, invulnerable, and in control, so as not to re-experience the powerlessness they felt when they were abused. Indeed, some overweight men and women, who are survivors of sexual abuse, are afraid to lose weight because it will render them feeling smaller and childlike." ~Cohen
For people who have been sexually abused and then go on to have bariatric surgery later in life may find themselves sabotaging their surgery. By not dealing with these issues prior to surgery, you may be increasing your chance of not reaching your goal post-op.
If you have been sexually abused, you must know there is help for you! Rape is Never Justified, offers free peer support services for male and female victims of sexual abuse as well as the first ever helpline that you can text instead of call! You can find them on the web:
Advocate Connect Helpline Number: 816-866-0765 
Available from 8am - 11pm CST

I encourage you to share your story in the comments below. If you would like to share your story but you do not feel comfortable doing so publicly or even publishing anonymously, feel free to e-mail me your story at

In love and support,
Sleeve Pixie

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