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Survivors of Sexual Abuse


 
 
 
What is Sexual Abuse?
 
Sexual abuse represents any kind of sexual contact between an adult or older teen and a child. This behaviour is used to gain power over the child and often involves a betrayal of the child's trust.
 
There are many types of sexual abuse, some include physical contact or touching offenses. This includes fondling, touching sexual organs, masturbation, making the child touch the adult sexually, and vaginal or anal penetration with self or objects. Non touching offenses include exposing a child to pornographic material, indecent exposure, leering and deliberately putting the child in the position of having to witness an act of sexual intercourse.
 
 
What kind of person would victimize a child?
 
People who sexually abuse suffer from emotional immaturity, low self-esteem, an inability to see harm in their actions and lack the knowledge to control their impulses. Often the offenders were victims of child sexual abuse themselves. Many abusers are not strangers, they are often people of position or power in our lives, such as, teachers, doctors, baby-sitters, neighbours, parents, peers, siblings, relatives and clergy.
 
 
How common is Child Sexual Abuse?
 
Studies suggest that about 10% of children under the age of 18 are sexually abused. By gender, about 11-14% of girls and 4-5% of boys under the age of 18 have been sexually abused. However, these averages are considered conservative since many occurrences of sexual abuse are never reported.
 
 
What are the effects of Sexual Abuse?
 
By far the most common effect of sexual abuse is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Symptoms extend far into adulthood and can include withdrawn behaviour, re-enactment of the traumatic event, avoidance of circumstances that remind one of the event, and physiological hyper-reactivity.
 
Another legacy of sexual abuse is that children abused at any early age often become hyper-sexualized or sexually reactive. Issues with promiscuity and poor self-esteem are unfortunately common reactions to early sexual abuse.
 
Substance abuse is as well a common outcome of sexual abuse. In fact, according to the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress (AAETS) “specialists in the addiction field (alcohol, drugs and eating disorders) estimate that up to 90 percent of their patients have a known history of some form of abuse.”
 
 
Specific symptoms of sexual abuse:
 
Withdrawal and mistrust of adults
 
Suicidality
 
Depression
 
Dissociation
 
Difficulty relating to others except in sexual or seductive ways
 
Unusual interest in or avoidance of all things sexual or physical
 
Sleep problems, nightmares, fears of going to bed
 
Eating Disorders
 
Frequent accidents or self-injurious behaviours
 
Secretiveness or unusual aggressiveness
 
Sexual components to drawings and games
 
Neurotic reactions (obsessions, compulsiveness, phobias)
 
Habit disorders (biting, rocking)
 
Prostitution
 
Forcing sexual acts on other children
 
Extreme fear of being touched
 
Unwillingness to submit to physical examination
 
 
Why do I have to deal with it now?
 
There are many reasons why children do not deal with the abuse at the time of the incident: unconscious feelings of shame, disbelief, self blame. Abusers may also threaten or bribe children into not speaking up, convincing the child that it is indeed their fault, and that they will never be believed otherwise. These tactics are used to silence the child. Under no circumstances, is the child to blame for the abuse. Although, if the abuse is not dealt with in a therapeutic and healing setting, the effects of past abuse will remain and undermine the victim for years to come.
 
 
How can Therapy Help?
 
Recovering from a sexual assault or abuse is a process, and that process looks different for everyone. It may take weeks, months, or years. There is no timetable for healing. In my practice I use Regression Therapy and Trauma Constellations to help people who experienced sexual abuse. These methods are very effective for a wide range of disorders including recovery from sexual abuse, rape and traumatic incidents.
 
 
Treatment phases and structuring of the healing process
 
The early phase of therapy focuses on building up trust between the therapist and the survivor and preparing the survivor for the healing process. During this phase of therapy the survivor is encouraged to tell their story which allows me to assess which therapeutic techniques may be the most beneficial.
 
Telling their story is difficult for some survivors. Their memories are fragmented and all jumbled up making it hard for them to relate what happened when. There is often a feeling of being overwhelmed by the abuse and just not knowing how to start. Many survivors just can't differentiate between episodes of abuse and their whole sense of childhood was taken over by it. At this stage there are tools like Regression Therapy or Body work which can be used to help the survivor put their childhood back together into a recognisable whole by focusing on specific incidents or episodes of their lives to structure their stories.
 
The middle phase of therapy is where the brunt of the work is done which includes re-processing the trauma. Processing the trauma of childhood sexual assault involves:
 
• Acknowledging the fact of the abuse and its impacts.
 
• Experiencing and releasing some of the feelings associated with the trauma that typically has remained unexpressed 
 
• Exploring a range of feelings towards the abuser/s and non-protective parents, siblings or caretakers 
 
• Making cognitive reassessments of the abuse (i.e. why it happened, who was responsible etc)
 
• Overcoming Post-Traumatic Fragmentations of the personality as a result of the traumatic event
 
 
If these avenues are explored the abuse can no longer remain frozen in time and continue to maintain the survivors status quo: The status quo that includes beliefs about vulnerability, helplessness, mistrust, stigmatisation, with a negative view of self and others. During this phase the abused child is integrated with the adult self so that they work together as a unified whole rather than being split and working against each other. Emphasis is also placed on cognitive restructuring, educating the survivor and the formulation of new coping strategies. Through this sort of trauma processing a clear line is drawn between the past and the present leaving the individual feeling more in control and determined to deal with the impacts the abuse has had on their lives.
 
It is at this stage that a stronger sense of self and changes in world view evolve and new coping skills can be incorporated into their behavioural repertoire. This is also a stage of exploration of possibilities which can lead the survivor further along the path to integration. This is a good time for group work, self-esteem and assertiveness training, stress management and/or self-defence classes.
 
The last phase of the healing process is the termination phase. This involves empowering the survivor to make their own choices and decisions without relying on the therapist. It includes the survivor's separation from the therapist process while establishing support networks. These might include self-help support groups as well as supportive friends, partners, or family members.
 
 
 
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