The healing process following sexual abuse or rape is a long, painful and important one. It takes time to let your body and your spirit heal, and it is important to build a supportive network of friends and family members to help you through this challenging time. Survivors often tend to isolate themselves, turn to drugs and alcohol, or push memories as far from their mind as possible. These are common yet self-destructive coping mechanisms are a way to escape confrontation and the possibility of having to relive traumatic experiences through issuing a statement and possibly having to face the abuser in court. Sexual abuse within the own family home are particularly traumatic as they strip off us a basic, vital human right: a safe home environment.
Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse
If a child has grown up being forced into varying degrees of sexual abuse, there is a strong likelihood that, while they can intuitively feel that the behaviours acted out on them by an adult or adolescent are wrong, they may not actually understand that it is. The psychological effects of sexual violence have proven to evoke deep feelings of shame, guilt and fear in children, young people and adolescents. In some cases, family members or acquaintances are aware of what is happening to the affected child but do not intervene. If the child knows this to be the case, these feelings of “deserving” or being “responsible” for the abuse they are suffering is only intensified.
Parents, siblings and the extended family are meant to play the role of protectors, and once these roles are compromised and the important family figures in a child’s life take on the role of the perpetrator, they lose their trust towards adults and peers. Worst of all, their silence will keep the cycle of abuse ongoing and possibly, mean that other children within the family could be suffering at the hands of the same abuser. According to a recognised media kit on sexual assault, “Few sexual assault victims disclose the acts they have been subjected to, while those who do disclose them, particularly children, delay in doing so, thus depriving themselves of the protection and services they might receive.”
The Long – and Short Term Effects
Many adults who experienced sexual abuse during childhood, go through life without every seeking support due to feelings of shame, guilt and blame. Survivors who never worked through their traumatic experiences during childhood, often suffer from serious short- and long-term psychological effects. When a person’s first sexual experiences are based on sexual abuse and violence, it can be extremely difficult for them to develop intimate relationships later in life. Some survivors are plagued by flashbacks when engaging in sexual activity, even if they are in a safe, loving environment with a trusted partner in a consensual situation. These memories and a warped sense of relationships can also contribute to incredibly low self-esteem.
Adult manifestations of childhood sexual abuse can be truly devastating and not just in the psychological sense. Female survivors of sexual assault during childhood can experience extreme difficulty when it comes to engaging in sexual activity later in life. Survivors describe their bodies tensing up to the point where entry is impossible, despite being intimate with someone they love and trust. According to licensed psychologist, Dr. Loretta Brady from the Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, ““That’s why sexual assault survivors will often find it challenging as they try to be intimate with someone that they wish to be intimate with. They may find it confusing as to why their body isn’t responding in the way they want it to emotionally respond. And oftentimes it’s because their physiological reaction is still connected to that traumatic event and hasn’t been made sense of by the body’s physical system or between their emotional state, psychological state, and physiological state.”
There might be various charities and crisis help centers in your area who can offer confidential counselling services that can help adults and children who have experienced sexual abuse develop new, self-loving behaviours and routines that will allow you to work through the ups and downs of your emotional household. These centers and helplines offer a place for you to share your stories, feelings and challenges without judgement or shame. It has been proven time and again that it is easier to open up to a neutral party, rather than someone close to you who might have their own emotional reaction to your situation.
The sooner you reach out to a support charity or help center you might feel comfortable with, the more beneficial to your mental and physical wellbeing. By seeking support in the early stages of your healing process, you can prevent long-term psychological effects from developing and work towards a healthy, mentally-balanced future with a network of experienced specialists and volunteers.