Sexual Abuse Recovery

Sexual Abuse Recovery- There is Hope!

What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is common, particularly for women and girls: Ninety percent of all rapes are committed against women, with 1 in 6 women experiencing rape. One in five girls and one in 20 boys experience childhood sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse and sexual assault are umbrella terms used to refer to a number of sexual crimes. These crimes include:

·         Rape: Forced sexual contact with someone who does not or cannot consent. Forcing sex upon someone who does not want it, who is intoxicated, or who is not legally old enough to give consent all constitute rape. Though a handful of states specifically define rape as forcible sexual intercourse, any form of forcible sexual contact can have long-lasting effects on the victim, and most states now recognize forced oral sex and similar forms of assault as rape.

·         Child molestation: Child molestation is any sexual contact with a child. Many children who are molested are too young to know what is happening and may not fight back. Some abusers use the child’s cooperation in these cases as “evidence” that no one was harmed. Examples of child molestation might include fondling or demanding sexual favors from a child.

·         Incest: Incest describes sexual contact between family members who are too closely related to marry. While incestuous sexual activity may occur between consenting adults, this is not common. The majority of all reported incest occurs as child abuse. Over a third of American sexual assault survivors under the age of 18 are abused by a family member, according to latest statistics. However, incest is an underreported crime, so the actual number of incest survivors may be higher.

·         Sexual assault: Non-consensual sexual contact with another person. Sexual assault includes behavior such as groping and any unwanted sexual touching. Attempted rape also falls into the category of sexual assault.

·         Other forms of sexual abuse: Not all sexual abuse fits neatly into common legal or psychological definitions. For instance, parents who have sex in front of their children or who make sexually inappropriate comments to their children are engaging in sexual abuse. So-called revenge pornography sites, which publish nude photos of victims without their consent, are another form of sexual abuse.


Male Victims of Sexual Assault and Abuse

Because many people do not take the sexual assault of men seriously, believing that men, especially men who identify as heterosexual or who are assaulted by women, cannot be victims of rape, male victims of sexual abuse and assault often face a culture that tells them their abuse results from either weakness or homosexuality. Some are reluctant to label their assault as rape or abuse or even mention it at all. However, a reluctance to disclose may be a barrier to treatment, when treatment can often be of significant help in resolving the feelings of guiltshamefearanger, and depression that might follow a sexual attack.


Sexual Assault in the LGBTQ Community

Sexual violence, including rape and other forms of assault, is reported to occur in the LGBTQ community at a rate that is the same or higher than the rate of sexual violence among those who identify as heterosexual. However, sexual crimes in the LGBTQ community are often not reported, since LGBTQ survivors of sexual violence often face heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, a discriminatory legal system, and other concerns, should they come forward and report an attack. Some of these concerns might include inadequate health and mental health care services; a fear of ostracism, both from the LGBTQ community as well as society; or a fear of being forced to come out—reveal their gender identity or sexual orientation—in order to make charges. LGBTQ survivors also face the same difficulties faced by anyone who reports a rape or other sexual crime, such as victim-blaming and disbelief.

 Childhood Sexual Abuse

The sexual abuse of children can take many forms and includes behaviors where there is no physical contact, such as exposure or voyeurism. Childhood sexual abuse is common: Forty-four percent of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18, and one in 10 children are abused before the age of 18. Although the abuse of children may, in some cases, stem from a sexual attraction to children, a perpetrator may also abuse a child in order to gain power over the child. A perpetrator will often also threaten or manipulate the child to prevent him or her from disclosing the abuse.

Up to 93% of children who have been sexually abused know their attackers, and over a third of the abusers are family members; therefore, programs that teach children to be wary of strangers will not help prevent all types of abuse. Approximately 73% of child victims do not disclose the abuse for a year or more, and 45% do not disclose it until more than five years have passed. Many victims of childhood sexual abuse never tell anyone about the abuse.

Some behavioral signs of abuse include:

·         Depression

·         Anxiety

·         Anger

·         Self-harm

·         Unexplained fear of particular people or places

·         Sexual acting out

·         Nightmares

Those who experienced sexual abuse as children are more likely to be sexually abused again later in life, abuse drugs or alcohol, experience an eating disorder, and have difficulty enjoying or engaging in intimate contact as an adult.

Mental Health Issues Resulting from Sexual Assault

Sexual abuse teaches victims that their bodies are not really their own. Victims often report feelings such as shame, terror, depression, and guilt, and many blame themselves for the assault. Some of the mental health challenges survivors of sexual abuse face include:

·         Depression: The loss of bodily autonomy is often difficult to cope with. It can create feelings of hopelessness, despondency, and lead to diminishment in one’s sense of self-worth. These feelings can lead to depression that may range from mild and fleeting to intense and debilitating.

·         Anxiety: For many people who struggle with anxiety, the feelings have no clear source. But for sexual abuse survivors, the loss of bodily autonomy, coupled with the fear that the attack could happen again, can cause intense anxiety. Some may develop agoraphobia and become terrified to leave their homes. Others suffer panic attacks, symptoms of physical anxiety, or a chronic fear of the type of person who harmed them. Someone who was raped by a tall, fair-haired man with blue eyes may instinctively dislike, mistrust, or fear all men encountered who match that description.

·         Posttraumatic stress: Posttraumatic stress (PTSD) might be described in this case as anxiety, depression, and intense memories of the abuse. Intensely disruptive flashbacks may occur, and in some cases, they might even cause an abuse survivor to lose track of surroundings. A related condition, complex posttraumatic stress (C-PTSD), yields symptoms of traditional PTSD as well as a chronic fear of abandonment. Some people with C-PTSD also experience personality disruptions.

·         Personality disruptions: Some evidence suggests that personality disruptions such as borderline personality can sometimes be the result of sexual abuse. The behavior associated with these personality disruptions could be an adaption to abuse. For instance, a characteristic of borderline personality is a fear of abandonment. While that fear might not make sense in adulthood, avoiding abandonment might have been what protected someone from childhood abuse.

·         Attachment disruptions: It can be challenging, particularly in children who have been abused, to form healthy attachments with others. Adults who were abused as children may experience insecure attachment patterns, struggle with intimacy, or be too eager to form close attachments.

·         Addiction: Research suggests that abuse survivors are 26 times more likely to use drugs. Drugs and alcohol can help numb the pain of abuse, but often, substance abuse can lead to the development of different concerns.

·         Triggers: Triggers are stimuli that remind survivors of the abuse they experienced. A rape victim whose attacker chewed spearmint gum might be triggered into a flashback by the smell of spearmint, for example. Though triggers vary widely, violence, subsequent abuse, and intense discussions of abuse are among the most common triggers.

Sexual abuse does not only leave psychological scars. It can also have long-lasting health consequences. A person who is assaulted may sustain bruises and cuts or more severe injuries such as knife wounds, sprained or broken bones, and torn or damaged genitals. Some victims develop sexually transmitted infections. Others may become pregnant as the result of an attack. Survivors may also experience health concerns such as chronic pain, sexual dysfunction, fertility problems, and decreased immunity, as well as other unexplained aches, pains, or illnesses.

Therapy for Sexual Assault and Abuse

Though sexual abuse is a traumatic and life-altering experience, recovery is possible. A compassionate therapist who understands trauma, especially sexual trauma, and its effects will often be able to help those who have experienced rape and other forms of sexual abuse. Research has consistently shown that the relationship between the therapist and the person in treatment is the most significant predictor of recovery. The following therapeutic approaches have proven especially effective:

·         Exposure therapy often works well when the sexual abuse results in a specific fear. For instance, a child sexual abuse victim who is afraid to go into the room where the abuse took place or who fears women who wear clothing similar to those worn by an abuser may benefit from such an approach.

·         Psychotherapy — or talk therapy — is often successful at treating victims of sexual abuse. The therapy revolves around the one on one relationship with the victim and the therapist. In the early stages of therapy, the therapist is more inclined to just listen which ensures that the victim moves at a pace in which they are comfortable with while developing trust in the process, and the therapist himself. This trust leads to the victim being more open and vocal about the situation so that the therapist can assess and determine the best course of treatment.

·         Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help survivors abandon maladaptive approaches. A man who was abused as a child, for instance, might be so afraid of intimacy that he avoids romantic relationships. CBT can help him uncover the automatic thoughts that cause him to avoid intimacy, enabling him to steadily work toward healthy relationships and behaviors.

NewPath counselors are trained to help you with recovery. Call today to start your new path to recovery.
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