What is Child Sexual Abuse?
Child sexual abuse is any sexual behavior directed toward a child by a person who has power over that child. Such behavior always involves a betrayal of the child’s trust whether the child feels that way or not.
Some forms of sexual abuse involve physical contact while others do not. Childhood sexual abuse that is more on the suggestive or non-physical end is just as much sexual abuse as sexual abuse that involves physical contact. The victim that has suffered from sexual abuse that isn’t as obvious will often wrestle with questions regarding the truth in what happened which in turn can create debilitating anxiety and negatively affect present and future relationship.
Perpetrators do so in order to meet their own needs and are not acting in the best interest of the child. They are often not strangers but people in the position of trust and authority such as fathers, uncles, cousins, stepfathers, siblings, mothers, teachers, babysitters, neighbors, grandparents, peers, clergy, or doctors. Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse often wrestle with the conflict between what they thought and felt as a child compared to what they now know as an adult. Due to this many layers of shame and judgment tend to surround abuse stories.
How Prevalent is Child Sexual Abuse?
It has been estimated that 20-40 percent of girls and 2-9 percent of boys are sexually abused by the time they reach eighteen. These are probably conservative estimates since many incidents of sexual abuse are never reported.
How Can I Know if I Was Sexually Abused?
If you remember being sexually violated as a child, trust your memories, even if what you’re remembering seems too awful to be true. Children simply do not make things up. It is common, however, for individuals who have been abused not to have clear memories. One way of coping with sexual abuse is to repress or forget that it ever happened. Even in the absence of conscious memories, certain experiences can trigger intense feelings of fear, nausea, and despair. Some of these triggers” include specific sounds, smells, tastes, words, environmental feelings and facial expressions.
Whether or not you have specific memories, if you suspect that you were sexually abused, then it is likely that you were. Events are never totally forgotten and your body has a way of “remembering” trauma so pay attention to these thoughts and feelings. Remember the point is not to blame or point fingers; it is to be healed by coming in line with the truth regarding these events.
If it Happened Back Then, Why do I Have to Deal With it Now?
Grievously, many children who seek help are met with disbelief or even blame. If the abuse is happening by a trusted adult it is possible that the child doesn’t know that a boundary has been crossed. There are even some cases where sexual abuse is so much part of the family system that it becomes a “normal” part of life.
There are many reasons why children do not seek help at the time of the abuse. Abusers will often intimidate the child or shame them into silence. They abuser might confuse the child by implying that the abuse is the child’s fault with comments like “You asked for it,” “It was your idea,” and “I know you enjoyed it.” Sexual abuse of a child can never be the child’s fault.
Through various forms of avoidance and dissociation, if the abuse isn’t dealt with in the present, the symptoms of the abuse will surface in later years causing symptoms that often are attributed to other things as the abuse is often blocked out.
What Are the Effects of Child Sexual Abuse?
There are many ways that people experience the harm that results from having been sexually abused. Consider the following questions (Bass and Davis, 1988):
- Do you often feel that you are not a worthwhile person?
- Do you feel bad, dirty, or ashamed of yourself?
- Do you have a hard time nurturing yourself?
- Do you feel that you have to be perfect?
- Do you have trouble knowing how you feel?
- Have you ever worried about going crazy?
- Is it hard for you to differentiate between various feelings?
- Do you experience a very narrow range of feelings?
- Are you afraid of your feelings? Do they seem out of control?
- Do you feel present in your body most of the time? Are there times when you feel as if you’ve left your body?
- Do you have a restricted range of feelings in your body? Do you find it difficult to be aware of what your body is telling you?
- Do you have a hard time loving and accepting your body?
- Do you have any physical illnesses that you think might be related to past sexual abuse?
- Have you ever intentionally hurt yourself or abused your body?
- Do you find it difficult to trust others?
- Are you afraid of people? Do you feel alienated or lonely?
- Do you have trouble making a commitment? Do you panic when people get too close?
- Do you expect people to leave you?
- Have you ever been involved with someone who reminds you of your abuser or someone you know is not good for you?
- Do you try to use sex to meet needs that aren’t sexual?
- Do you ever feel exploited sexually or use your sexuality in a way that exploits others?
- Are you able to “stay present” when making love? Do you go through sex feeling numb or in a panic?
- Do you find yourself avoiding sex or pursuing sex you really don’t want?
- Do you experience flashbacks during sex?
Where Do I Begin?
If you think that you may have been sexually abused, speaking with a trained professional can be extremely helpful. You don’t need to be alone in your pain. In fact, simply naming the abuse as abuse is one of the first and most crucial steps to healing. A trained professional can help you through this process and may actually be able to accelerate your recovery! You are already a survivor of abuse. Now it is time to thrive.
Rape Crisis Hotline
You can reach your local crisis center at any time by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE
Hours: 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 24 – Hour Crisis Line 866.4CRISIS
TTY / TDD for the Deaf 206.461.3219
Emergency Rescue Services and/or Police Assistance 911.