The scary statistic surrounding child sexual abuse is that every nine minutes a child is sexually assaulted in the US. In the majority of child sexual abuse cases the child knows the perpetrator. Often they hold a position of authority over the child such as a medical professional, a teacher, a family member, or coach. The important thing is to remember that no matter the circumstances surrounding the sexual abuse it was not your fault.
What Effects Will A Child Of Sexual Abuse Experience When They Become An Adult?
A child will experience many short term effects following the sexual abuse but when they grow up and better understand what happened they might experience some other long term effects. Some of these will include:
It is normal for survivors to experience guilt for the sexual abuse, either due to the circumstances surrounding the abuse or for not being able to stop it. If the body experienced physiological reactions to sexual stimulation or if pleasure was felt during the sexual abuse that can also add to the guilt, shame, and blame the survivor feels. While these are normal feelings following sexual abuse, it is important to remember that it is the offender who should feel guilt and shame not you. They are accountable for the abuse, not you, especially not when the abuse happened when you were a child who placed their trust in the offender.
Having a hard time with intimacy or trusting in relationships:
If you were sexually abused as a minor it is likely that your first experience of sex and intimacy was the abuse therefore as an adult it is normal to struggle with intimacy and even trusting in a romantic or sexual capacity. Consensual sexual activity can trigger flashbacks in some survivors and there might be difficulty in setting boundaries that keep them feeling secure in relationships.
Low self-esteem is common among survivors of sexual abuse, especially when the abuse happened so young. Survivors can be left feeling dirty or worthless and often negative words or degradation can be a tactic offenders use to keep their victims silent. It also springs from having your words and personal safety ignored and violated. Low self-esteem can affect many areas of your life in such a negative way. It is important to remember that the sexual abuse speaks volumes about the attacker, not you and that you are a survivor.
Why Does This Still Affect My Life When It Happened So Long Ago?
In short there is no timescale for dealing with a sexual abuse, it can affect people in such different ways. Also when the abuse happens as a child due to them not being able to advocate for themselves the abuse can be an ongoing thing and further damage can happen when they try to talk to an adult about it and are either ignored, not believed, or blamed for the sexual abuse. Sometimes the child will be in survival mode and push down all the feelings while the abuse is happening and they will resurface much later in life.
How To React When Someone Tells You About Sexual Abuse?
If someone trusts you enough to open up about sexual abuse to you it is important to listen and help them feel comfortable and like they can trust you. Your reaction will determine if they will feel like they can speak to other people or even medical professionals or the authorities about what happened. It can be difficult to hear about bad things happening to people we care about but this interaction is about the survivor not you. So listen, give them encouragement, tell them you believe them and that you will support them in any way they need.