No child should ever have to endure sexual abuse. Unfortunately, 63,000 children are sexually abused every year. That is 1 every 8 minutes! The vast majority of these victims know their attacker; in fact, most are assaulted by a parent. Having been sexually abused as a child can have a profound ongoing impact on a person’s life:
- Self-blame, Shame, & Guilt: Most child victims (and many adult victims) blame themselves for their abuse. Often it is because the abuser told them it was their fault. Other times, they get blamed when they tell an adult. Sometimes, they “figure it out” on their own. But it is NEVER the child’s fault! No matter what that child did, it is always the responsibility of the adult to not abuse the child.
- Relationship difficulties: Many adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse struggle to create or maintain healthy relationships. A person learns about love and relationships as a child. If they are taught twisted or unhealthy ways to love or be in relationships, they are very likely to struggle to create a healthy loving relationship. Even if they know that what they learned as a child was bad, they may still not know what a good relationship looks like.
- Sexuality and intimacy: Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse can experience flashbacks or upsetting memories when they try to be intimate. They may also find that even when they want to be intimate, they disconnect from their bodies, go away, or don’t remember it afterwards. CSA survivors also struggle to control their sexuality. Some survivors choose to never be intimate (I will never let anyone hurt me like that again). Some choose to be intimate only when they must (I want their love, so I will have sex with them when I must). And some share their bodies freely (What happened to me doesn’t matter and I’ll prove it to myself by letting anyone have it).
- Other mental health struggles: Many adults with childhood sexual abuse histories develop depression, anxiety, eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders just to name a few. Even borderline and other personality disorders have been linked to childhood trauma and sexual abuse.
- Unhealthy, harmful, or dangerous ways of dealing: When a child has to cope with an event that is way too awful for their age, they do the best they can. But they are children and do not have the knowledge, skills or resources of an adult – so often their ways of coping can be harmful in their own way. Alcohol, drugs, cutting and other forms of self-harm are just a few of the less than ideal ways a person may deal with their CSA.
- Chronic health issues: Someone who has survived childhood sexual abuse often spends the majority of their life on “High Alert”. Their bodies are perpetually in the danger response mode (for more on the 4 danger responses see this blog post). When a person’s body is in the danger response mode it is putting a great deal of stress on the body. Usually the danger response mode is short term and the body can return to the non-danger resting state and repair the harm the danger mode stress caused. But if a person never reverts to non-danger mode they are wearing out their body and never repairing it. Adult survivors of childhood trauma (all forms) experience significantly more health problems then the general population.