Charity Number. 1132467

Supporting Survivors of Abuse

Supporting Survivors of Abuse

Child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse also occurs when an adult indecently exposes their genitalia to a child, asks or pressures a child to engage in sexual activities, displays pornography to a child, or uses a child to produce child pornography.

Effects of child sexual abuse include guilt and self blame, flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, fear of things associated with the abuse (including objects, smells, places, doctor's visits, etc.), self esteem issues, sexual dysfunction, chronic pain, addiction, self-injury, suicidal thoughts, somatic complaints, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, other mental illnesses (including borderline personality disorder and dissociative identity disorder), propensity to re-victimization in adulthood, and physical injury to the child, among other problems.

Sexual abuse by a family member is incest, and can result in more serious and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest.

Approximately 15% to 25% of women and 5% to 15% of men were sexually abused when they were children. Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims, approximately 30% are relatives of the child, most often fathers, uncles or cousins; around 60% are other acquaintances such as friends of the family, babysitters, or neighbors; strangers are the offenders in approximately 10% of child sexual abuse cases. Most child sexual abuse is committed by men, though women commit approximately 14% of offenses reported against boys and 6% of offenses reported against girls. Most offenders who abuse pre-pubescent children are pedophiles; however, a small percentage do not meet the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia.

The Survivor's Experiences in Later Life

Sometimes the experience of abuse appears to be wholly or partially forgotten for years while the survivor continues with their life. Memories may resurface however when the person is settled in a safe environment, or may be triggered by specific events such as beginning a sexual relationship or becoming a parent.

The memories can bring intense feelings and experiences :

  • Flashbacks and nightmares: Recollections of the abusive experience may intrude into the waking thoughts or in dreams.
  • Shame and guilt: The survivor often blames themselves; may suffer from low self-esteem or may feel deeply embarrassed about seeking help. They may become depressed, harm themselves and have thoughts of suicide.
  • Intense anger: Directed at the abuser, and may be linked with a wish to confront or to completely avoid them. It may also be directed at others who seem to have colluded with the abuse or may be more general.
  • Disrupted relational patterns: Some survivors find they tend to avoid intimate relationships and are distrustful of the motives of all other people. Others find they tend to form very intense intimate relationships which can be emotionally draining.
  • Fear of the consequences of the abuse: Survivors may wonder whether they will be able to form normal relationships or whether they might become abusers themselves. There is no evidence to support this belief which is commonly held. There may be difficulties in enjoying normal sexual activities.
  • Isolation and stigmatization: Survivors feel they are totally alone with their experience. They can feel that they have been marked out and that somehow others know of their history without being told and so treat them differently.

As with human response to any trauma, the degree of the reaction can vary widely between individuals. Some people apparently come to terms with very severe abuse comparatively easily; others find the abuse has a lasting effect on them. Neither of these responses is more correct or more healthy than the other.

Children living with Domestic Abuse

Children are not just the direct victims of abuse. Living in an abusive environment, such as when either parent may be the direct victim, also has an enormous impact on children.

10 Lies From Childhood Domestic Violence

  • Guilt

    The Lie: You are somehow responsible for what happened in your home when you were a child. It was somehow your fault or you could have stopped it – or there is just something wrong with you.
    Why: As a child, the emotional brain is fully developed, but the neocortex—the logical thinking center—is not fully developed until adulthood. Children are able to feel the emotion fully but are unable to understand what is happening, to understand the truth. Thus, a child can falsely conclude the violence is his or her fault.
    The Truth: It’s never a child’s job to control the actions of adults. I know that guilt and shame destroy willpower and this false belief has held me back long enough. I am free from the environment of childhood. It is now time to be free from the illusion of guilt and shame.
  • Resentment

    The Lie: You are not a good person deep down because you resent others and their happiness. You must live in resentment and bitterness toward those who hurt you; your resentment will make them hurt and you will feel better.
    Why: Because of what you experienced, you are prone to resentment—the accumulation of anger that has gone unexpressed. Anyone who had a childhood, has something you never had, which can lead to thoughts like, 'It wasn’t fair, they don't deserve it, I hope they fail.'
    The Truth: Those who have suffered in childhood, truly understand suffering. Because of this I want to take the suffering away. I am compassionate. I do not cause pain in others; I naturally want to help take the pain away in others. I am compassionate, and today if a feeling of resentment comes over me, I immediately remind myself of these truths.
  • Sadness

    The Lie: Feeling sad is a constant that will always be with you. Things can be going great, but then a few minutes later, you sink into sadness and cannot get out. This is just how you are. You go through life focused on yourself. You consciously and subconsciously mourn the loss of your childhood.
    Why: You feel as though you lost something: love from your parents, your childhood, etc. You believe that you are destined in life to continue to experience loss and hurt. This sadness is made worse when you hurt others, with words or otherwise.
    The Truth: Today, I will take the time to feel those things for which I am most grateful. I can sleep through the night. I am free. I am becoming aware of how my childhood has had an impact on me. I am grateful.
  • Loneliness

    The Lie: You are alone and it was meant to be that way; no one can truly deep down understand or connect with you and that is just as well because they can’t be trusted and you will push them away.
    Why: When you don't trust the people on whom your entire life depends, when they are under attack or behave unpredictably and sometimes cruelly, your emotional world is turned to chaos, and it’s hard to feel safe or trust anyone.
    The Truth: It's hard to trust others when I don't trust myself, it's hard to trust myself when I don't know myself. I now know some of the most important truths of my life and only now can approach new situations with a positive intent, assuming another's intent is positive is the key to trusting.
  • Anger

    The Lie: You believe anger is an effective way to solve problems and deal with conflict. It replaces the lack of control, certainty, significance and security you lived without as a child.
    Why: As a child, you witnessed adults reacting in anger and are mirroring what you saw. Unconsciously, you learned that such a response was normal, so when you believe your needs aren’t being met, you use anger as a kind of payback to teach others a lesson.
    The Truth: I can take the energy that anger produces and control it, harness it and point it towards the thing with which I am most passionate. I use the acronym, "DATA." I decide what the emotion is, I ask, "What else could this mean?" I remind myself of the truth, and then I act in a way that moves me closer to my full potential. I choose to pursue my passions that move me closer to what I want in my life.
  • Hopelessness

    The Lie: Life is hopeless and it will never get better, so in the end why bother trying? Good things don’t happen to people like you.
    Why: When it seems that no matter what you do, you still feel more bad than good each day, it seems like happiness will elude you throughout life. When there is no certainty or security, there is no hope. When you can’t control the pain and suffering around you, your expectations are low. It’s safer to expect the worst because it always ends up that way.
    The Truth: I was guided out my childhood and I am guided now. I now know I am not alone. I am inspired by the success of others who have come before me who grew up living with domestic violence and whose experiences I use as lessons to help me fulfill my own potential.
  • Worthlessness

    The Lie: You need the approval and recognition of others to replace the genuine lack of esteem you feel inside.
    Why: You believe the people who were supposed to care for you the most either did not or were unable to. Thus, if they didn’t think you were worth protecting and loving, why should you feel that way about yourself?
    The Truth: Whenever I doubt that I am good enough, I will remind myself of what I have already overcome. The truth is that no obstacle I face as an adult can compare to the obstacles I faced in childhood and have already overcome. I am accomplished.
  • Fear

    The Lie: You are destined to go through life allowing fear and anxiety to hold you back, to stop you from realizing your goals and dreams. Deep down, you believe you lack confidence. Why: Exposure to chronic stress puts the part of the brain that detects danger on high alert. Fear becomes to default response to everything and you naturally focus on all the bad things that could happen. The Truth: There is no fear that I could potentially face this day that will compare to the fears that I have already faced and have overcome. There is nothing that can be thrown at me that I can’t handle. I am confident.
  • Self-Consciousness

    The Lie: You are unattractive and flawed and everyone is judging you. You are self-conscious and feel not good enough. You rely on affirmations from others and look to external fixes to make you feel attractive.
    Why: Harsh criticisms and put-downs early in life left behind these lies that have been carried into adulthood. Non-physical violence wrecks children’s self-confidence. It humiliates them and leads them to believe that they’re unattractive and undeserving of love and it carries into adulthood. And if you believe all of these lies about yourself, deep down, how could you not feel self conscious?
    The Truth: Now that I know the truths of my life, I act as such. When I act as though I am free, compassionate, grateful, guided, trusting, accomplished, confident and lovable, I am more attractive and I feel more attractive.
  • Being Unloved

    The Lie: You are unlovable and unworthy of love. You doubt whether you deserve to be loved.
    Why: A lack of love early in life interferes with your sense of self. You believe you weren’t loved by those who created you, so you wonder who else could ever truly love you.
    The Truth: Now that I know the truths are inside of me, I can I give freely the feelings I most want to feel. In doing so, I feel love, I am loved.

Last updated on 05/03/2015
By Sally Jardine
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