What are some of the effects of childhood sexual assault? Great question, Matt. I’m so glad you asked because people need to know the answer.
I hope you will read this in it’s entirety because it seems to me this is where the beginning of understanding can take place.
“Sexual abuse infringes on the basic rights of human beings. Children should be able to have sexual experiences at the appropriate developmental time and within their control and choice. The nature and dynamics of sexual abuse and sexually abusive relationships are often traumatic. When sexual abuse occurs in childhood it can hinder normal social growth and be a cause of many different psychosocial problems (Maltz, 2002).”
The Long-Term Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse:
Childhood sexual abuse has been correlated with higher levels of depression, guilt, shame, self-blame, eating disorders, somatic concerns, anxiety, dissociative patterns, repression, denial, sexual problems, and relationship problems.
Depression has been found to be the most common long-term symptom among survivors. Survivors may have difficulty in externalizing the abuse, thus thinking negatively about themselves (Hartman et al., 1987). After years of negative selfthoughts, survivors have feelings of worthlessness and avoid others because they believe they have nothing to offer (Long et al., 2006). Ratican (1992) describes the symptoms of child sexual abuse survivors’ depression to be feeling down much of the time, having suicidal ideation, having disturbed sleeping patterns, and having disturbed eating patterns.
Survivors often experience guilt, shame, and self-blame. It has been shown that survivors frequently take personal responsibility for the abuse. When the sexual abuse is done by an esteemed trusted adult it may be hard for the children to view the perpetrator in a negative light, thus leaving them incapable of seeing what happened as not their fault. Survivors often blame themselves and internalize negative messages about Ideas and Research You Can Use: VISTAS 2011 3 themselves. Survivors tend to display more self-destructive behaviors and experience more suicidal ideation than those who have not been abused (Browne & Finkelhor, 1986).
Body issues and eating disorders have also been cited as a long-term effect of childhood sexual abuse. Ratican (1992) describes the symptoms of child sexual abuse survivors’ body image problems to be related to feeling dirty or ugly, dissatisfaction with body or appearance, eating disorders, and obesity. Survivors’ distress may also result in somatic concerns. A study found that women survivors reported significantly more medical concerns than did people who have not experienced sexual abuse. The most frequent medial complaint was pelvic pain (Cunningham, Pearce, & Pearce, 1988). Somatization symptoms among survivors are often related to pelvic pain, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, and difficulty swallowing (Ratican, 1992).
Stress and anxiety are often long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse. Childhood sexual abuse can be frightening and cause stress long after the experience or experiences have ceased. Many times survivors experience chronic anxiety, tension, anxiety attacks, and phobias (Briere & Runtz, 1988, as cited in Ratican, 1992). A study compared the posttraumatic stress symptoms in Vietnam veterans and adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The study revealed that childhood sexual abuse is traumatizing and can result in symptoms comparable to symptoms from war-related trauma (McNew & Abell, 1995).
Some survivors may have dissociated to protect themselves from experiencing the sexual abuse. As adults they may still use this coping mechanism when they feel unsafe or threatened (King, 2009). Dissociation for survivors of childhood sexual abuse may include feelings of confusion, feelings of disorientation, nightmares, flashbacks, and difficulty experiencing feelings. Denial and repression of sexual abuse is believed by some to be a long-term effect of childhood sexual abuse. Symptoms may include experiencing amnesia concerning parts of their childhood, negating the effects and impact of sexual abuse, and feeling that they should forget about the abuse (Ratican, 1992). Whether or not survivors can forget past childhood sexual abuse experiences and later recover those memories is a controversial topic. Some therapists believe that sexual abuse can cause enough trauma that the victim forgets or represses the experience as a coping mechanism. Others believe that recovered memories are false or that the client is led to create them (King, 2009)
Survivors of sexual abuse may experience difficulty in establishing interpersonal relationships. Symptoms correlated with childhood sexual abuse may hinder the development and growth of relationships. Common relationship difficulties that survivors may experience are difficulties with trust, fear of intimacy, fear of being different or weird, difficulty establishing interpersonal boundaries, passive behaviors, and getting involved in abusive relationships (Ratican, 1992). Feinauer, Callahan, and Hilton (1996) examined the relationship between a person’s ability to adjust to an intimate relationship, depression, and level of severity of childhood abuse. Their study revealed that as the severity of abuse increased, the scores measuring the ability to adjust to intimate relationships decreased. Sexual abuse often is initiated by someone the child loves and trusts, which breaks trust and may result in the child believing that people they love will hurt them (Strean, 1988 as cited in Pearson, 1994). Kessler and Bieschke (1999) found a Ideas and Research You Can Use: VISTAS 2011 4 significant relationship between women who were sexually abused in childhood and adult victimization.
Many survivors experience sexual difficulties. The long-term effects of the abuse that the survivor experiences, such as, depression and dissociative patterns, affect the survivors sexual functioning. Maltz (2001a, as cited in Maltz, 2002) gives a list of the top ten sexual symptoms that often result from experiences of sexual abuse: “avoiding, fearing, or lacking interest in sex; approaching sex as an obligation; experiencing negative feelings such as anger, disgust, or guilt with touch; having difficulty becoming aroused or feeling sensation; feeling emotionally distant or not present during sex; experiencing intrusive or disturbing sexual thoughts and images; engaging in compulsive or inappropriate sexual behaviors; experiencing difficulty establishing or maintaining an intimate relationship; experiencing vaginal pain or orgasmic difficulties (women); and experiencing erectile, ejaculatory, or orgasmic difficulties (men; p. 323). A study done on the prevalence and predictors of sexual dysfunction in the Untied States revealed that victims of sexual abuse experience sexual problems more than the general population. They found that male victims of childhood sexual abuse were more likely to experience erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and low sexual desire, and they found that women were more likely to have arousal disorders (Laumann, Piel, & Rosen, 1999).”
So, my question to you is this: how does a person just get over it?
Pope Francis, I appeal you to meet the needs of survivors of clergy sexual abuse by making reparations commensurate with the damage, emotional or otherwise, caused to survivors. I have ideas on how to do this. If you can’t do this, then I respectfully ask, on behalf of the Church, you to stop receiving communion until such time that the Church does. Because until the Church does, it will not be in communion with the saints. Sincere contrition is meaningless without reparations in kind. Demonstrate to the world that the Catholic Church is catholic; that is, the Church Jesus established with Peter as the rock, the first pope; that the Church practices what it preaches.
Thanks for reading.
Wishing you much love and peace,
“Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” ― Mother Teresa
Consider sharing this blog with others. Victim/survivors of abuses, more often than not, carry this burden silently alone, not knowing how to deal with it or where to turn, but need hope. Loved ones and caregivers also need support. We never know who is or wants to reach out for help. This blog might be of help to caregivers and loved ones of abuse. Silence is deadly and if together we are able to help or save just one life, isn’t that worth it?
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It has been great to meet and talk with you Matt… I look forward to reading long or short versions of any topic, story, thoughts or emotions you touch on.. I hope they help other survivors in their healing journey.. I know talking about it helps me.. be well !
The other day I shared a story on FB about losing two teeth in an accident, and someone said everything isn’t everyone’s business. I said, it was a burden and shame I was holding onto and I no longer wanted to carry it. God told me to turn over my burdens and turn them into … Continue reading Tamirra H.
In reaching out to others, you are Christ’s hands. It takes courage and broad shoulders. I will continue to pray that the Holy Spirit guide those open hands into a thriving ministry…Don’t let yourself fail prey to discouragement. It may be your calling. God bless you!