The Stigma of Sexual Abuse
In a just, sin free world, childhood sexual abuse would not exist. Unfortunately, the statistics prove otherwise. In 2012, research found that one in four girls and one in six boys will experience sexual abuse by the age of 18*. Seventy percent of all reports of sexual assault (including adults) occur to children 17 years of age and under*.
Children, by their very nature, are trusting, vulnerable, limited, dependent and pliable. Sexual abuse often comes by the very ones charged with protection, provision and care of the child. The betrayal and powerlessness of the child’s personhood is catastrophic for many reasons. This life changing dynamic occurs when a child has no resources, understanding, knowledge, support or physical strength. It changes the course of development in a child repeatedly. The effects are deep, wide and take an enormous toll on the physical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual life of the child**.
Among the long list of impacts from abuse are betrayal and self-blame. Many feel the betrayal of the abuse at the time and cannot name the power dynamic as a set up and grooming. For many, there is a point in the abuse that felt comforting and pleasurable. This creates confusion and core distress. The undeveloped cognitive capacity reasons that I must have somehow invited this or was a willing participant. This results in self-blame and creates a bind the child can’t escape on their own. This reaps a long internal struggle that spills out in many ways in the child’s life as they grow. Many suffer in silence and/or acting out. Some know the pain they are trying to dispel and for others it is not a recognized connection. The suffering may not be obvious to the casual observer. Many of the abused have the appearance of a life that is put together. Other’s have the telltale signs of “not thriving”.
It is not uncommon for many adult survivors looking back to know about the abuse and not have experienced it as traumatic until years later when their evolving sense of the abuse and ongoing impact develops. The degree of betrayal after this revelation can depend on how close the child felt to the perpetrator and the role of the perpetrator in their life. For instance, how much the child trusted, cared for, loved and depended on the perpetrator. This can have an even greater impact of shame on the adult and it can also lead to a reframing of the abuse and a quest for healing.
The effects of childhood sexual abuse in the adult’s present situation are almost always present even without the awareness of it. Symptoms such as emotional (depression, anger, overwhelming anxiety, phobias, compulsions, isolation, avoidance, etc.), behavioral (impulsivity, risk taking, self-harming, food, drug and alcohol addiction, spending, repeated abusive relationships, etc.), physical (sleep, autoimmune, digestive, headaches, etc.) and profound spiritual issues. Children have learned about faith, hope, love and trust through the experience of sexual abuse and the family dynamics combined. They have often learned about the unseen through the seen. For many, the unspoken rules of the family taken in by the child are: don’t talk, don’t feel, don’t think, don’t touch. This is just a smattering of the long and devastating effects childhood sexual abuse can have.
However, the stigma of sexual abuse/assault does not have to have the final say. Restoration and hope are available to the one who is willing to enter and name their own story. Support is available. Change is possible. Hope is real. Contact Cynthia Morris at SureHope Counseling and Training Center to begin your journey of healing and hope.
**.Langberg, D. (2018). Shattered innocence childhood sexual abuse. Christian Counseling
Today, 23(1), 20-22.