Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

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This is a big topic and there is no way to cover it all in one post.  It is however, an important topic and one that should be discussed frequently.

October is child abuse prevention and awareness month in Canada.

In 2001, 60% of all reported sexual offences in Canada were against children.  Alarmingly, only 2% of childhood incest cases and 6% of family sexual abuse cases are reported to police.  Childhood sexual abuse covers a very broad range of territory.  It pretty much encompasses any sexual activity between an adult and a child or in some cases, between two children (such as a youth and a younger child).  It can be someone taking pictures, video taping, fondling, touching, to repeated sexual activity.  Regardless of the fear of the big bad stranger coming to abduct your kids, the vast majority of sexual offences occur as a result of someone the child and / or family knows or is in a position of authority over the child.  This can have very big implications for recovery that carry into adulthood.

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The scars associated with childhood sexual abuse are often invisible.  They are a result of the manipulation, the emotional and physical abuse, the terrorizing and threats uttered and implied that work to keep a person silent.  It is very common for kids to wait to disclose, if they ever do.  While some families will put pressure to keep the child silent in order to save the family name or ‘image’, many families have no idea that the abuse has occurred.  It’s not a reflection of ‘bad parenting’, it is a reflection of the type of abuse children endure and the cognitive and developmental abilities of the child victim.  Some adults struggle with the question “why didn’t I tell someone (sooner)?”  You didn’t for two reasons, your brain wasn’t ready for you to do that and your abuser worked exceptionally hard to make sure you didn’t feel like you had a choice.

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Researchers and many community organizations are just now coming to the realization that many adults seeking various mental health and addictions related services are in fact victims of childhood sexual abuse.  Post traumatic stress symptoms are common reactions to the abuse and can carry into adulthood, especially if there was never an opportunity for treatment along the way.

For most folks, the very coping mechanisms used to allow you to deal with this as a child and carry on with your life are often the same coping mechanisms and behaviours that get in your way as an adult, interfering with your ability to lead a healthy adult life.

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What works for us when we’re kids, is not necessarily going to work for us when we’re adults.  Our brains have changed meaning how we interpret and understand and perceive the event will be dramatically different.  Our circumstances and environment will have changed.  Living alone, with others, away from the abuse, near it, surrounded by support or lacking appropriate supports will all become relevant in our journey towards healing.  What this means is that we often need to go back to counseling more than once throughout our lives.  Different life circumstances and different environments sometimes mean different issues and different resolutions.

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As an adult, it is common to experience some of the following issues if you’re a victim of childhood sexual assault;

  • depression
  • addictions and / or eating disorders
  • marital difficulties / difficulties engaging in or maintaining a healthy relationship
  • no memories of your childhood
  • flashbacks and triggers
  • feeling a disconnect with the rest of the world, like you’re numb and you have no feelings
  • physical ailments (memories in your body)
  • deliberate self-harm

Fear, shame, post-traumatic stress, guilt, embarrassment, humiliation, pain, sorrow, anger or rage; are all emotions that survivors experience that can make it very difficult to tell someone and /or get help.

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Counseling is not the be-all and end-all of the universe.  It is one piece of a very large puzzle that really can help a person learn how to manage their thoughts and feelings and move forward in a healthy way.  While it is not for everyone, for childhood sexual assault survivors it can help to make the difference between barely hanging on to moving forward.  For more information about resources, please visit Victim Info .

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Categories: Children, Sexual assault, Teenagers, Trauma, Victimization

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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