A sexual assault violates one's most intimate and personal boundaries and triggers a wide range of issues that survivors must confront, on some level, for the rest of their lives. One of the most difficult issues facing victims of sexual assault is the realization of their vulnerability and powerlessness to protect themselves from such an intimate invasion. This issue of powerlessness is perhaps most profound for the child victim. Sexual abuse, especially during the developmental stages of childhood, can have devastating and long-lasting effects on the child's growth physically, emotionally and mentally. Issues concerning trust, self-esteem and forgiveness can run quite deep and present significant challenges into adulthood.
If your abuser was someone you knew and trusted as a child the effects may be particularly painful. The fact that someone who was supposed to love and protect you caused the violation and can be quite frightening. The powerlessness and shame can sometimes be too difficult to bear. Consequently, some children may successfully bury the memory of the assault until something happens to trigger that memory.
Who are the abusers?
Most abusers are men and teenage boys (90%) but abusers can be women and teenage girls too.
There is a somewhat widespread belief that only homosexual men abuse boys. This is not true. Often it is heterosexual men and women who commit violent sexual acts against innocent male children and teenagers. Men who sexually abuse boys do it because of the power and control that they obtain over another human being.
Was it your fault that you were sexually abused?
No it wasn't.
The person who sexually abused you may have tricked you by buying you gifts or giving you toys so that they could sexually abuse you. Or they could have tricked you into believing that they were going to teach you about sex. Sometimes you may think that the abuse is your fault, but it is not. Sexual abuse is about violence, manipulation and power.
Impacts of Childhood Sexaul Abuse
Past experiences may have given you little hope of having control over what happens to you. However, it is important that you understand that you are no longer a child who is powerless to stop the abuse that was perpetrated on you by the adults in your life. You have power now, but more importantly you have the right to control what happens to you and to choose your sexual partners.
You may experience disruptive memories surrounding the assault. A sudden occurrence of a visual memory is called a flashback. If you have a flashback you may not only "see" what happened but also experience all of the emotions and feelings that you had at the time of the assault. A flashback can be very frightening and even trigger a panic response. Sounds, smells, people and places associated with the assault can trigger memories and flashbacks. Remind yourself that these are only memories. You are safe now and have the power to choose if and when you wish to review these memories. When you begin to recognize your personal empowerment these memories will lose their power.
Victims of childhood sexual abuse experience many losses. There is a loss of innocence, loss of a carefree childhood, loss of security and trust, to name a few. There may have been the loss of a normal relationship with parental figures, loss of the opportunity to choose your own sexual experiences and partner and loss of nurture. All losses need to be mourned in order to bring the grieving to closure. It is time to name your losses, grieve over them and put them to rest.
Although this is one of the most common issues for a victim of sexual assault it can be one of the most difficult for the adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse to get in touch with. You have probably spent many years covering up your true emotions. You may have felt powerless to acknowledge and act on your anger and therefore learned to suppress it. The healing process necessarily involves getting in touch with your feelings of anger.
It is important to acknowledge the anger you felt and probably still feel toward the perpetrator and the other adults who were supposed to protect you. You have the right to feel angry and there is nothing wrong with expressing anger in constructive ways. Unexpressed anger can lead to depression.
Many survivors experience feelings of guilt and shame. You may feel guilty that you did not stop the abuse. You may have been afraid to disclose what was happening for fear of not being believed. You must remember that a child can never be responsible for being sexually assaulted. What happened was not your fault. The blame must be placed exactly where it belongs, with the abuser. An adult abused their position of authority and is solely responsible for their actions.
You may feel ashamed because your body responded to sexual stimulation. This is no indication that you liked or wanted the abuse. Further, children often seek affection from adults and accept any demonstration of it as affirmation that they are loved. It is the responsibility of the adult to practice and teach appropriate boundaries to the child.
Information adapted from Envision Counselling Center
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