In the past three decades we have seen a significant shift in community attitudes toward the existence of and effects of childhood sexual abuse. From the 1970’s where ignorance and denial of the problem was most prevalent to the current day where the community no longer appears as willing to accept the abuse of it’s children. This readiness on the part of the public and the mental health professions to address the problem has resulted in better understandings of the treatment and the effects of childhood sexual abuse. These changes are heartening, but we still have a long way to go in protecting our children and in addressing the needs of adults who were abused as children.

If you were sexually abused as a child, you have lived through an experience that can have lasting effects.

The most significant and damaging characteristics of childhood sexual abuse are:

  • the abuse of adult power
  • the betrayal of a child’s trust
  • the denial of a child’s right to feel safe and valued
  • the violation of a child’s personal boundaries and sense of self

Statistics indicate that approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 9 boys are abused in childhood. Whilst sexual abuse is prevalent throughout the community, it most commonly occurs within families.

An adult who sexually abuses a child may use threats and manipulation so that the child will maintain the secret of the abuse. These may include telling the child that they are responsible for what is being done to them, that they will be blamed or that no one will believe them. Physical abuse of the child is common, but not always present.

It is also true that children may not understand that what is being done to them is wrong. Children are very trusting and have a natural need for affection and approval. Children also have very little power over what happens in their lives – they are taught to obey adults and to look to them for guidance.

Some of the effects upon adults sexually abused as children are:

Self Esteem Emotions or Feelings
As an adult you may feel that

  • you have no rights
  • you have no control in your life
  • you’re a bad person
As an adult you may

  • have difficulty identifying or expressing feelings
  • not trust your feelings
  • feel like your emotions are out of control
Relationships Your Body
As an adult you may

  • avoid closeness to avoid betrayal
  • become involved with abusive people
  • cling to people for approval
  • put other people’s needs first because you feel you don’t deserve to have your needs considered
As an adult you may

  • be disconnected from bodily sensations
  • feel bad about your body
  • inflict pain or injury on yourself
  • abuse alcohol, drugs or food
Sexuality Parenting
As an adult you may

  • go numb during sex
  • avoid sex
  • seek sex to meet other emotional needs
  • be vulnerable to sexual exploitation
As an adult you may

  • find it hard to balance your needs with those of your children
  • be over protective
  • find it hard to show affection appropriately

Choosing a counsellor

Regaining a sense of control and personal power in your life and developing skills to improve your daily functioning, are essential in healing from childhood sexual abuse.

If you are going to work on issues related to abuse, you will require informed and appropriate support in doing so.

A counsellor should:

  • be educated about the effects of childhood sexual abuse and be trained in the treatment of adults survivors
  • be willing to hear about and appreciate your experiences
  • respect and allow you to experience the whole range of your emotions
  • teach you skills to improve your daily functioning and self care
  • encourage you to build a support system
  • respect your decisions and needs

Some of the effects of childhood sexual abuse described in this article may apply to you, some may not. Whatever the effects, whatever patterns or coping strategies you have developed as a result of your experiences – it is possible to heal from childhood sexual abuse.

Visit website for Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

If you would like more information please feel free to contact Diana by telephone or email.

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