What is Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse can be defined as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient of the unwanted sexual activity. Falling under the definition of sexual abuse is sexual activity such as forced sexual intercourse, sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape. Sexual abuse perpetrators are usually people that you know. They could even be part of your family or an acquaintance.
You have been sexually abused if you have been:
- Treated as a sex object
- Treated as a possession
- Criticized sexually (for example, called frigid)
- Put down (your feelings about sex)
- Called “whore” or “slut” or other prerogative terms
- Forced to have sex after physical or emotional abuse
- Made to perform sexual acts you did not want to do
- Forced into prostitution
- Made to beg for sexual affection
- Forced to have sex when you were sick or in bad health
- Hurt with objects or weapons during sex
- Forced to pose for sexual photographs
- Made to have sex with animals
- Forced to have sex as a child
Who is Affected?
Individuals and their family and friends are those most affected by sexual abuse.
Sign and Symptoms
Decades of research consistently documents that adults who were sexually violated as children are also negatively impacted as a consequence of the abuse. The range of abuse related difficulties in adulthood includes:
- Low self esteem
- Eating disorders
- Interpersonal difficulties
- Post traumatic stress disorder
- Dissociative identity disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumaticStress Disorder (PTSD) is a normal human reaction to an extreme or abnormal situation. Many people experience PTSD as a result of a traumatic experience such as rape or sexual abuse.
Flashbacks are when memories of past traumas feel as if they are taking place in the current moment, making the sufferer feel the same emotions as during the trauma.
If you were sexually abused you are not alone and you are not to blame. Many times the person abused believes that they have caused the abuse. This is never the truth. The person who perpetrated the assault is always to blame.
Screening and Diagnosis
The usual screening and diagnosis takes an hour and includes some ways in which you might start feeling better by reaching your goals in treatment.
There are a variety of treatments for sexual abuse. Many times individuals respond to treatments differently. Sexual abuse often can be treated effectively with psychotherapy or medication or both.
Coping Skills for “Problem Behaviors”
The following are some ideas and resources that other survivors have found helpful in their recovery. Recovery is an individual process. You can learn to trust that your choices will be right for you.
Some Things You Can Try:
Tell: Sharing your story with people who listen supportively and understand what you have experienced is crucial to your recovery. Look for safe people whom you can trust. You get to decide who to tell, what to tell, when to tell, and how to tell. Know though, that most survivors experience tremendous relief and are able to begin the healing process once they have told.
Build Your Support Network: Develop a network of supportive friends, family members, and/or professionals who can be available to you to offer support when you experience the fear, pain, and other feelings and experiences of the healing process. Find out who is available before you are in crisis, so when the crisis comes your support network will be in place.
Emergency List: Many survivors create an emergency list for themselves and keep it in an accessible place. The list includes ideas for getting your needs met and taking care of yourself in the event that you are re-traumatized. The list can include simple suggestions like breathing, using the telephone to call a friend, getting a stuffed animal and hugging it, checking in with your body, or going to a safe place.
Self Care: As you progress in your recovery, make it a priority to learn healthy self care. When you were abused you were taught to put your needs last and to take care of the needs of the perpetrator, any silent accomplices, and perhaps other siblings or family members. Now it is time to learn to take care of yourself. Healthy self care varies from person to person. It can include such things as nourishing your body with healthy food that you enjoy, getting rest when you need it, allowing yourself to get your needs met in ways that feel comfortable and safe, taking a warm bubble bath, doing yoga or tai chi, drinking plenty of water, or perhaps buying yourself a gift.
Be Gentle With Yourself: Recovery is a process and takes time. You will not get there overnight. You can set a goal of treating yourself with the same compassion and understanding as you would extend to others who have been wounded and are in a healing process. You can gradually learn to love yourself and have patience with yourself as you replace old, unhealthy coping patterns with a new way of living.
Talk Yourself Innocent: It is natural for a child to assume that bad things are happening to her/him because of something he/she did. Many times perpetrators blame their victims for their own atrocious behavior. Other adults in whom a child confides may also assign blame to the child directly or indirectly. A child who has been sexually abused is always innocent. The perpetrator is 100% responsible for his/her bad choices. Even though you may have internalized the blame for the abuse, you can talk yourself innocent. When you catch yourself in self blame, notice the feelings and be present with them, and at the same time remind yourself that you were not responsible for the abuse.
First Things First: Sometimes it is helpful to stop yourself from spinning in emotional circles and simply ask: “What do I need to do to take care of myself right now?” It may be as simple as getting some food or going to the bathroom.