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Sexual abuse is a hard topic to talk about. It is one of the most damaging and scarring crimes for a victim. Sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, molestation, etc., are violent crimes. The United Nations reports that one in three women will be raped and/or assaulted in her lifetime. That is a huge number of women.According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) statistics one in seventy men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their life, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old and one in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted while in college. https://www.rainn.org/statistics
Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere. This abuse does not just happen to a certain demographic of people or only women. There is a huge amount of sexual abuse among children that is reported every day. This can happen to any class of people, any race, any gender or any age. I have worked with many people dealing with sexual abuse and I can assure you that perpetrators prey on all kinds of people when they are most vulnerable.
What is Sexual Abuse?
Before really getting into the details of sexual abuse it is first important to define exactly what sexual abuse is. Sexual abuse can also be referred to as: molestation, rape or sexual assault. The best definition of sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual activity.
In many cases of sexual abuse physical force is not used. Do not get me wrong there are also many cases where physical force is used but that is what can make it so confusing for the victim. The victim is left questioning themselves and in many cases blaming themself.
Here are some of the signs you have been sexually abused:
- Unwanted touching
- Rape: Unwanted penetration of a body part or object
- Forcing and/or manipulating the victim to have them do unwanted sexual acts
- Taking advantage of a victim in vulnerable situations (for instance while under the influence of alcohol)
Understanding what rape is
Rape is crime of violence and domination, where one person (or more than one person) forces, manipulates or coerces another person to have sex. Date rape is a common term used describing a certain kind of rape. Date rape is forcible sex within a dating relationship.
Acquaintance rape is when the rape is committed by somebody known by the victim. In many cases of date rape, alcohol (or another drug) is used to commit the rape. According to the RAINN website, in 90% of date rape cases alcohol is a factor.
What about Child Sexual Abuse?The RAINN website is a great resource to find information about sexual abuse. This website defines child sexual abuse as this:
Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse that includes sexual activity with a minor. A child cannot consent to any form of sexual activity, period. When a perpetrator engages with a child this way, they are committing a crime that can have lasting effects on the victim for years. Child sexual abuse does not need to include physical contact between a perpetrator and a child. Some forms of child sexual abuse include:
- Exhibitionism, or exposing oneself to a minor
- Masturbation in the presence of a minor or forcing the minor to masturbate
- Obscene phone calls, text messages, or digital interaction
- Producing, owning, or sharing pornographic images or movies of children
- Sex of any kind with a minor, including vaginal, oral, or anal
- Sex trafficking
- Any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare
When dealing with the aftermath of abuse it can be confusing and so many emotions come up. Many times victims are left with depression, anxiety, stress, fear, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and flashbacks of the event. These are not the only things that can surface after abuse. Sometimes the abuse manifests into self harm, eating disorders, substance abuse, sleep disorders and even suicide.
I recommend finding a therapist that can help navigate through these feelings and help with recovery from the abuse. These feelings and the abuse itself are not going to go away on their own. It is never too late to seek treatment after sexual abuse. I have worked with many adults that were sexually abused as a child. The point is that they recognized that they needed help. I have never worked with anybody and thought, “it is too late for this person”.
An Interview with a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse
(This is not a client but their personal information is being kept confidential to protect their privacy.)
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and share about the abuse you went through as a child. Tell me a little about your story.
I was sexually abused by a friend of the family growing up. It started at age 8. I did not say anything until I was an adult. I was too scared. My abuser threatened to hurt me if I told anybody. When I was 8 I was really confused about it but I knew that it was not right. I carried a lot of shame about the abuse. I blamed myself and for many years and I carried this secret alone. It really damaged me.
When I was about 13 years old the abuse stopped and that is when I started using drugs and alcohol as a way to cope. I became sexually active with other men thinking that it was normal and what I was supposed to do. I did not know any better.
Tell me about what it was like when you first shared with somebody about the abuse.
It was freeing. That is the first thing that comes to my mind.I got sober in my early 30s. I had had enough of the drinking and drugging lifestyle. I had really dug myself into a hole personally, professionally and legally. When I was going through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous my sponsor asked me at one point if there were any more secrets I was carrying that I needed to share to stay sober.
I remember bursting into tears and shared that I had been sexually abused. What a release that was for me. I had not planned on sharing that before going over to her house and I did not think that was going to come up at any point but thankfully it did come up.
She encouraged me to find a therapist. She had been through physical abuse from her parents growing up and had sought out therapy herself when she got sober. I followed her advice and found a therapist that specialized in sexual abuse. To this day I believe that advice was the catalyst to me staying sober and creating a new and healthy life for myself.
What was therapy like for you?
I was really scared to go to therapy. I had never been and only had an idea of what it would be like. Luckily, I connected with the first therapist I saw. I remember my first session very well. She did a really good job of making me feel comfortable and making sure I knew that we would go at whatever pace made me feel comfortable.
She knew why I had sought out therapy but I did not start talking about the details of the abuse until a few months into therapy. I had to feel comfortable with her, that I could trust her. I had kept this secret for a long time and it was not going to just come out right away.
Looking back, what have been the greatest benefits of seeking therapy?
The first thing that comes to mind is that I can talk about the abuse today without any negative feelings about myself or shame. I know that it was not my fault and the shame that I carried with me for so long is no longer mine to carry around.
It was never mine to carry in the first place. I had a lot of secrets about what I went through. In therapy I shared those secrets and no longer feel like I carry them alone. It was freeing to say it out loud and no longer allow those memories have such a negative impact on my life.
I also could not maintain a healthy relationship with a man for most of my life up until that point. My relationships were completely unhealthy before I dealt with the abuse. Today, I am married. My husband and I respect and love each other. I respect and love myself most importantly.
Thank you for sharing your story, do you have any advice for somebody going through the aftermath of sexual abuse?
You’re welcome. The only thing I can think to say is, get the help. Dealing with this alone is not going to be helpful. I tried doing that for so many years. I was left depressed, alone, isolated and unhealthy in so many ways. Finding a professional to guide you through the process is key to healing. You deserve healing and not to carry this burden alone. While it is a tough process, I promise it is worth it.
Benefits of Therapy After Sexual AbuseI have talked about seeking therapy after sexual abuse several times in this article. It is important to remember that you do not have to go through this alone. There are many different kinds of therapy that can be used to treat a victim of sexual abuse.
Not every treatment works for every person and we are lucky enough to live in a time where there are so many treatments available. Here are just a few of the treatments that are available: Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
There are going to be many benefits to seeking out therapy.
Here are a few I know of from working with sexual abuse victims:
- Help deal with the feelings that have come up
- Reduce feelings of depression, anxiety or other mental health issues
- To know you are not alone in this journey
- Learn new, healthy ways to cope with the abuse
- Learn to self sooth
- Process the memories
- Challenge your thinking that is unhealthy that was brought on by the trauma
- Eliminate or at least significantly reduce any nightmares and flashbacks you might be having
- Restore your quality of life
If you think you have been sexually abused talk to somebody you trust and contact a professional today. You no longer have to be a victim, you can be a survivor and get through this.
Resources for Sexual Abuse Victims
I have listed some professional organizations and some public awareness organizations below.
- American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists
- American Counseling Association
Public Awareness Organizations
- Darkness to Light
- One in Three Women
- Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN)
- Stop Rape Now
- Unite to End Violence Against Woman
- Sexual Assault Awareness Month
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