Day 60 – Recovering from Sexual Abuse

YMCA: Child sexual abuse is a crime that happens across race, religion and class, and has lifetime effects. Child sexual abuse is often predicated on silencing the victim, and as a result, reporting and disclosure is low. Experts predict that 500,000 children will be impacted by child sexual abuse per year.

  • About 93 percent of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser. Less than 10 percent of sexually abused children are abused by a stranger.
  • Children are at heightened risk for sexual violence. Nearly 70 percent of all reported sexual assaults occur to children ages 17 and under. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
  • Child sexual abuse can have lifetime impacts on survivors—especially without support. It can impact educational outcomes, lead to heightened symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, higher rate of suicide, drug abuse, higher likelihood of teen pregnancy, and chronic health issues.

American Counseling Association: 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.

  • 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 child to view the perpetrator in a negative light.
  • Body issues and eating disorders have also been cited as a long-term effect of childhood sexual abuse. The symptoms of child sexual abuse survivors’ body image problems are related to feeling dirty or ugly, dissatisfaction with body or appearance, eating disorders, and obesity.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Treatment of and recovery from childhood sexual trauma is not a simple matter.  Each survivor’s experience is different, and hence their recovery requires a unique alchemy as well. Beyond cognitive therapeutic interventions, support groups, art/music/movement therapy, and alternative modalities such as EMDR may also be helpful.

Here are a few organizations that support the use of art for the healing of childhood sexual trauma (mostly regional in scope):

Organizations that operate on a broader scale, though not necessarily focused on recovery from childhood sexual abuse, include