Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse
Being sexually abused as a child can have lasting effects on an individual. Sexual abuse can take many forms: exposure, spying without permission, genital contact, penetration, sexual jokes, exploitation, pornography, and other types of interaction are some examples. Often, the abuse is done by a person who the child already knows or trusts. The effects of the abuse as an adult will depend on a variety of factors, and the good news is that support is available and healing is possible.
Some common symptoms of trauma include:
Experiencing a trauma is often a life-changing event. Some individuals will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and many will experience symptoms that change their lifestyle. Trauma changes the perception of the world and people in it. Exactly how a trauma will influence an individual is hard to tell, but research has shown that these factors can provide information:
It is important to remember that while some of these patterns have been observed, an individual who has been sexually abused has had their rights violated. Even once instance of inappropriate sexual contact can be traumatic and have an influence on life choices.
Those who experienced sexual abuse as children may grow up to have a higher chance of developing the following concerns:
Finding relief from trauma symptoms is possible. One of the biggest hurdles that adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse face is overcoming the stigma and shame of telling someone of the past abuse. Men especially may find it difficult to share that they were sexually abused. For most, it is easier to avoid the thoughts, feelings, and any reminders of the abuse. All of this can prevent any progress of healing, as isolation, fear, and dysfunctional behaviors can take over.
This first obstacle can be defeated when a person finds a safe relationship in which to confide. This might be a friend, counselor, or staff member at a Sexual Abuse Crisis Center. Many times, people are encouraged to share about their past after hearing a similar story that provides hope and encouragement. Having the proper support can make a tremendous difference in the process of healing.
Trauma informed care is one approach to healing, and can be applied in a variety of ways. It includes being educated about trauma and the effects it has on an individual. It also proposes concepts such as safety, trust, choice, community, empowerment, and a cultural perspective. These concepts, in addition to supportive relationships, help the individual to regain an understanding of how sexual abuse as a child influenced any previous patterns of coping, and how they can regain the ability to take their life in a direction of their choice. Trauma informed care is often provided in counseling/therapy or through interactions with support groups at Crisis Centers or other service agencies. Care should always be provided by a trained individual.
Some components of healing include:
How to Seek and Offer Support
If you are looking for support, you can do an online search for local agencies that provide counseling and other services for adult survivors of sexual abuse. Organizations like the YMCA and YWCA could be a good place to start, and often offer childcare services. You can also check with your insurance for mental health benefits, or look up local agencies that provide mental health services at a decreased cost, as long as you qualify.
If you are the loved one of a survivor, you can participate in the healing process in multiple ways. Firstly, you can educate yourself about trauma and begin to have conversations that encourage understanding and developing options for how you can offer the proper support needed. Building trust, choice, and long-term connection can help the individual overcome different social problems. If you are the partner of a survivor, these skills can eventually help to resolve any sexual concerns, too.