The likelihood of having been or of knowing someone who was sexually abused before the age of 16 and the effects on the victim and society as a whole needs open and frank discussion. To mitigate the effects, we need to understand what support may benefit survivors, and how and when that support can be given.
Addressing sexual abuse can feel terrifying, especially because the effects are deeply rooted in behavioural survival techniques that can hinder progress in adult day to day life. Self-care can happen only when destructive habits are recognized and faced. Addictions, emotional volatility, low self-worth and esteem, distorted body image, food problems, and disassociated states are among many of the identified effects that occur with having been a victim of sexual abuse. Moving into thriving as a survivor involves embracing and hearing the inner child within. Healing takes time. Healing takes persistence. Healing can and does happen to lead to amazing and fulfilling lives. By educating oneself, it can become apparent where personal responsibilities lie and where efforts to control may be surfacing, once apparent, taking steps to let go and focus on aspects that can be changed brings plausibility to once seemingly impossible situations.
For ongoing, long-term support please visit www.siawso.org to locate a local or online meeting. Literature written by survivors for survivors can be purchased here as well. Survivors of Incest Anonymous serves any and all survivors of childhood sexual abuse (excluding any person who may have perpetrated abuse on a child as an adult) and is based on the 12 Step model of recovery used in AA and other fellowships. The mutual understanding that comes with speaking with other survivors in recovery is unparalleled. Sponsorship is a key component and is freely given by those with experience in the program.
Therapy for survivors requires looking into therapists with training specific to dealing with the trauma of sexual abuse in childhood and asking questions to obtain trust in the professional and their ability to be a supportive ally in healing.
Effects on Partners and Support
Support for partners and how partners can support survivors can be found within SIA special interest groups, literature, and discussed with a therapist. Sexual issues arising from the survivor’s abuse experience(s) can manifest in all areas of a relationship. Trust needs to be earned and it may require extra time and consideration to ensure healthy limits can be created and understood. Open communication can feel scary but it will provide the grounds for a real relationship to be established and nurtured.
Support from family
Childhood sexual abuse, sadly, more often than not, occurs in families by family members or trusted individuals known to the family. Here, denial can seem the safest by not acknowledging or believing the victim thus allowing an image of normalcy that is not sustainable.
For family members who know about the abuse, it is important to recognize that the expression of pain and anger that may arise from the survivor is not there to impede upon your life, but rather that your presence is needed. Most family members also need support and care, as being a witness to abuse is also incredibly damaging. Please read the above section on ‘Survivor Needs’ and ‘Ongoing Support’ for resources that can help.
Effects on Society
Mental health awareness, the #metoo movement, and activism in child trafficking are some of the recent highlights seen trending in the public eye as of late. These movements were brought up by courageous individuals and those who supported them and were equally willing to speak up. The toll of denying or ignoring the voices of those who endured sexual abuse helps absolutely nobody. By actively listening and hearing those who speak up negates much of the heaviness of carrying secrets. Society has a history of placing the onus and shame on the individual and this is a pattern that must change for a healthier nation.
It is by actively listening and caring that unmerited shame can be addressed and eradicated. A method towards this is to approach all interactions with people from a standpoint of equality and compassion. A touch of kindness and patience costs nothing but will make a difference in all the lives touched by these humane traits.
Opening discussions in appropriate forums
While sexual health information around STIs abounds online and in clinics, topics offering support specific to survivors of childhood sexual abuse is rare and disproportionately available to the actual needs and numbers of survivors.
Schools, crisis centers, shelters, churches, counselors, student societies for LGBT+ care, walk-in health clinics, hospitals, and government services are all feasible areas for people to be able to talk about survivorship and to gain resources and build networks.
It is important to create and maintain spaces dedicated to non-judgemental learning and care with consensus-based communication models in place. Professionalism and integrity are essential in dealing with sensitive issues that can be triggering for people. The simplest way to address concerns is to do so in a straight-forward manner, using language that is clean and considerate.
A note about survivors of childhood sexual abuse who are still children:
- It is the responsibility of the informed adults to take control of a situation to stop any further abuse, notify authorities to enact consequences, and provide the dynamic support needed for the child.
A note for those who have been abused and have abused others:
- There are support groups and therapists who specialize in helping perpetrators and those with sex-addiction problems available.