Understanding the Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse – Facts!
Here is a youtube video which shares information on childhood sexual abuse, the impact on survivors and the facts. I hope you find it helpful.
There is also a FREE information sheet to go with this, which is a PDF file to download. You will find this on my shop page. You will need to enter your email address as the file will be emailed to your inbox. If it doesn’t come through, please check your spam and junk folder.
(I’ve also put it under the link to the video just as a read only)
Click here for the video Childhood Sexual Abuse – The Facts and the Impacts on Survivors
INFORMATION SHEET 1
UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACT OF CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE ON SURVIVORS – FACTS!
Let’s start at the beginning. What is Childhood Sexual Abuse? (CSA). The definition is broader than most people think. CSA includes any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors, when one exerts power over the other. That may include forcing, coercing or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act as well as non-contact acts, such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyeurism, and communicating in a sexual manner by phone or Internet.
Let’s have a look at some detail of CSA and its effects and affects. Now, I know this is hard reading, but please bear with me. Here are some facts and figures that you need to know . . .
Across the world, 20% of children have been sexually abused. In the US, 16% of men and 26% of women have been sexually abused in childhood. According to the NSPCC, 5% of children in the UK have been sexually abused. (However, most studies put the figure higher, at around 10%, and those are just the reported cases.)
How much damage can one sex offender do? Well on average, one perpetrator will molest an average of 120 victims, most of whom do not report it. 90% of perpetrators abuse children that they know.
Studies show that abuse involving either physical penetration and/or abuse involving a father or stepfather has greater long-term harm. This doesn’t in any way diminish abuse without penetration, or from non-parental family members, but the clinical studies demonstrate that the long term affects have a more destructive force, often leading onto more severe destruction, such as substance abuse, eating disorders, suicide and self-harm. Survivors of CSA often have feelings of isolation and stigma, as well as dreadfully poor self-esteem. Oftentimes, this leads to suicidal behaviour when these are reactivated and triggered by similar situations in adulthood. Survivors often feel dirty, disgusting, not worthy, full of self-blame, lonely, unloved and uncared for, desperate for love and affection, validation and worth. There is a powerful ‘need’ to be accepted, loved, cared for, and to feel safe. This need will often drive the person into destructive relationships and into a destructive life. Survivors are also far more likely to develop anxiety disorders, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even experience psychotic symptoms.
Adults over twenty-five who have experienced Childhood Sexual Abuse are twice as likely to attempt suicide as those that have not experienced Childhood Sexual Abuse. Twice as likely is a lot! But, it’s a lot better than ten times more likely! It seems the older you are, the more likely you are to make it. It’s that crucial time, thirteen to twenty-five that seems to be the highest risk time, with a suicide rate of ten times the national average. Roughly a third of all sexually abused children have attempted suicide, and 43% have thought about it. 70% of all psychiatric emergency room patients report a history of childhood physical or sexual abuse. (These are the people that are sectioned or enter voluntarily into a psychiatric unit because they are actively suicidal.)
Now, let’s talk about the head, and, in particular the brain. Did you know that your CSA has programmed your brain to be on constant danger alert? There is a part of your brain called the ‘Amygdala’ and another called the ‘Hippocampus.’ These are in what is called the ‘limbic system,’ which is our emotional brain. They are responsible for all emotion and in particular, memory and fear. Studies have shown that CSA creates abnormalities in these areas and predispose the person to high levels of impulsivity, impaired decision making and suicidal behaviour. Your brain has got wired to fear life and to make bad decisions!
Now, let’s talk about, ‘Feeling/being thick!’ Academic problems in childhood are a common symptom of sexual abuse. Sexually abused children perform lower on psychometric tests measuring cognitive ability, academic achievement and memory assessments. Studies indicate that sexual abuse exposure among children and adolescents is linked with high-school absentee rates, special education services and academic difficulties. In fact, a history of CSA significantly increases the chance of dropping out of school altogether. No matter what your education, what your academic achievements, you are not thick, you are not stupid, and, you are not a failure. Do not write yourself off! The CSA you experienced put the spokes in your education, but that does not mean you are thick! Neither does it mean that it is forever.
Now, let’s talk about alcohol and drugs. Wonderful anaesthetics aren’t they? Numb that pain right down! Can’t feel a thing? Excellent! Well, not really – it’s just delaying the inevitable, plus adding something else destructive that you have to deal with later. A number of studies have found that adolescents with a history of CSA demonstrate a three to fourfold increase in rates of substance abuse/dependence. Something else to recover from then, plus the CSA that led you there in the first place!
What about food? That’s a substance too! Obesity and eating disorders are far more common in women who have a history of CSA. Figures show that sixteen to twenty-four year-old women with CSA are four times more likely than their non-abused peers to be diagnosed with an eating disorder. And, middle-aged women who were sexually abused as children are twice as likely to be obese.
Studies began in the 1990s, looking at the effects of CSA on long term health. The most famous study is the ‘ACE’ study. The ‘ACE’ study examined the relationship between health in adulthood and previous exposure to emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, and other household dysfunction during childhood. It came up with ten indicators (events), which are; Physical abuse; Sexual abuse; Emotional abuse; Physical neglect; Emotional neglect; Mother treated violently; Household substance abuse; Household mental illness; Parental separation or divorce; Incarcerated household member. The outcome from the study found that the more of these events that you have experienced, the more likely that you are to have issues with health in adulthood. Do a quick count now, how many of those did you have? What did the ACE study find? Generally, adult victims of CSA have higher rates of health problems and report significantly more health complaints, compared to adults without a child sexual abuse history. Adult survivors of CSA are at greater risk of a wide range of conditions, including fibromyalgia, severe premenstrual syndrome, chronic headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and a wide range of reproductive and sexual health complaints, including excessive bleeding, pain during intercourse and menstrual irregularity. Not only do you have more minor health conditions, but you are at greater risk for the more serious conditions as well. You are 30% more likely to have a serious medical condition such as diabetes, cancer, heart problems, stroke or hypertension.
Male CSA survivors have twice the HIV-infection rate of non-abused males. In a study of HIV infected twelve to twenty year olds, 41% reported a sexual abuse history.
What else do we know? According to the NSPCC, CSA costs the UK £3.2 billion a year. Wow! It’s an expensive business, being damaged, isn’t it!
Let’s now look at what ‘CSA’ is.
One of the most confusing areas of CSA for many is what is known as ‘Grooming.’ This is a totally different type of abuse to that of being attacked. I have heard people ask, “Why didn’t he/ she scream, or fight, or yell? Why didn’t he/she tell? Why did he/she keep going back?” There is a real lack of understanding on this one, and I want to try to dispel some of it. There are different types of abuse; they are not all the same, they are different, and, they have different impacts and different traumas on the victims.
Stranger abuse – these attacks often come out of the blue. The child is dragged into a bush, van, park, house or other place and sexually assaulted, molested and/or raped. The attack may also happen in a friends’ house. The attacker may be the father, visitor or relative of the friend. It is generally a one-time incident, extremely traumatic and results in huge shock for the child, PTSD and more. The child is more likely to tell their parents in this type of abuse, but not always. If the child does tell, the parents are usually out of their mind with grief, hugely supportive of, and to, the child. The Police are often involved and are also, usually, supportive. They involve victim support, counselling and child psychology. The child is, hopefully, given every opportunity to heal, work through and to deal with their abuse. The event will stay with them for life, but they are often able to function in adulthood well, despite the incident, because of the love and support around them at the time. Having a low ACE score (home is not dysfunctional) makes a significant difference on their ability to move past this trauma.
Family incest – The most common form of sexual abuse, incest is carried out by a parent, step-parent, brother, uncle, grandfather or other family member. The breach of trust to the child is indescribable, and often results in the complete inability to trust anyone or anything, or to develop real intimacy or emotional bonding with another human being. When we experience this type of CSA, we don’t trust our own perceptions and we become an expert in disbelieving our own senses. We try to convince ourselves that we over-reacted and that nothing really terrible happened: “My daddy would never really hurt me.” Ah, denial, isn’t it powerful? Family incest, particularly by a father or step-father has been found to have the highest levels of long-term damage in adult survivors of CSA. In terms of risk, children who live with a single parent that have a live-in partner are at the highest risk of all – they are 20 times more likely to be victims of child sexual abuse than children living with both biological parents. This type of abuse is rarely reported, and the Police are rarely involved.
Abuses by other children – 40% of abused children are abused by other children, not adults.
Grooming – Abusers often form close relationships with potential victims and/or their families prior to the abuse. This is called “grooming.” Grooming is a process where the offender gradually draws the victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy. At the same time, the offender may also fill roles within the victim’s family that make the offender trusted and valued, such as a friend, babysitter or carer. Grooming behaviours often include special attention, outings, and gifts. The offender works hard to firstly identify and then meet the child’s unmet needs, with lots of affection, attention, play and cuddles, actively targeting children with high ACE scores. (They seem to be able to spot a vulnerable, neglected child at twenty paces! How, I have no idea, but they do.) They are smart, quick, sly and clever. The bond they build with the family means that it is very difficult for the child to tell, as they assume that no one would believe them. (That’s assuming that they even realise that they have been abused, because most do not.) Let me explain . . .
. . . These types of perpetrators are often highly organised, intelligent, manipulative and controlling. They will treat the child as if he or she is older, encouraging them to be ‘grown up,’ gradually crossing physical boundaries, and becoming increasingly sexual. The child will often grow to love this person, and believe that they are, ‘in a relationship with,’ the perpetrator. They are usually unaware that they are being abused at all! Why? They are being brainwashed and programmed to believe that the sexual actions are normal and acceptable between them and their abuser. This is a type of abuse (to my knowledge, and in my experience) where the child will enjoy some of the sexual activity, and often responds in a sexual manner to the touch, given enough time. This type of abuse leaves particular scars of self-blame, self-disgust and shame. They ‘loved’ the abuser, they remember sometimes enjoying the sexual part, and cannot believe the abuser would hurt them, or that the abuser did anything wrong. It leaves immense confusion in the child, which plays out in adulthood. Again, this type of abuse is rarely reported.
Short-term and long-term abuse – for some, their abuse is one single occasion. For others, it is a handful of occasions. For others it is over a period of months, but for some, it is years. It is not unusual for me to work with a client who has been the victim of CSA from the age of four right up to fifteen, experiencing abuse on a daily or weekly basis for all those years. At that time (fourteen to sixteen years of age), the survivor will find a way out of the cycle of abuse, often by leaving home, moving in with a partner, running away, and, at a last resort, by committing suicide. Studies show that the longer the length of time that the abuse goes on for, the more damage it does to the person on every level.
As we can see, there are many types of childhood sexual abuse, and just as many different types of perpetrators, each leaving their own type of scars. It’s estimated that 38% of victims never disclose their abuse. (I, personally, think it’s much higher.) Of those that do, of all the total reported cases of sexual assault of all ages, 70% are assaults on children under seven years old. Of all reported rapes, 40% of those are also on children.
The types of abuse that I have listed here are the ones that I am aware of and have worked with. I know there are many more. It is important to find out more about your type of abuse in order to understand some of your drives and motivations, fears and actions. The more you know, the easier it is to heal and release them. When you’ve finished this article, please take a little time to do some research, google some abuse organisations, find out a little more from the ‘official experts,’ like Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Sexual Abuse Counsellors, charity organisations etc.. Find out as much as you can, because the knowledge creates the understanding, and the understanding starts the healing process.
Now, I know this article has been terribly depressing reading – all these facts and figures, and I agree, it is! You may have experienced depression, had suicide attempts, had mental health problems, drug or alcohol problems, been arrested, convicted, been in prison, been promiscuous, been a sex worker, have no education, feel thick, not good enough, not worthy. You are not alone, and now that you have read all these facts and figures, you can begin to see that your behaviour, patterns, reactions etc. are actually ‘normal’ responses to what you’ve been through, rather than ‘abnormal’ ones. There is a journey into wholeness, a journey to bring the broken bits of you back together. It is a journey to reprogramme your wiring, your beliefs and your drives . . . a journey to release your disgust, your shame and your pain . . . a journey to feel clean enough, good enough, worthy, lovable, deserving . . . a journey into peace where you can Move Past the Past once and for all. That journey begins with you wanting to move past your past and to heal through understanding, awareness, counselling and therapy.
Please see my book ‘Moving Past the Past: A Guide for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse’ for more information, help and advice. (This article is taken from Chapter 1 of this book.)
If you would like to know more about working with me on your healing journey, please get in touch.
Copyright © 2017 Julie Poole
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