Sexual abuse ©

Sexual abuse is any form of sexual violence, including child molestation, incest, rape, sexual assault and similar forms of non-consensual sexual contact. Experts agree that sexual abuse is never only about sex and is often an attempt to gain power over victims. According to a 2,013 research carried out by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), one in twelve female students are the victims of rape. Immediate crisis assistance after any sexual assault is invaluable and can save lives.


Rape trauma syndrome 

In 1974, psychiatrist Ann Wolbert Burgess and sociologist Lynda Lytle Holmstrom introduced the theory of RTS. It is described as the psychological trauma experienced by a rape victim that includes disruptions to normal physical, emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal behaviour. RTS is a cluster of psychological and physical signs, symptoms and reactions common to most rape victims immediately following and for months or years after a rape. Burgess and Holmstrom’s research found that rape survivors are at high risk for developing substance use disorders, major depression, generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders.

Child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse is any exposure to sexual acts imposed on children who inherently lack the emotional, maturational, and cognitive development to understand or to consent to such acts. Children who have been sexually abused may avoid being alone with people, such as family members or friends. They may display fear and be frightened of a person or be reluctant to socialise with them. Abused children may seem withdrawn, have problems sleeping and be bed-wetting, they may change their eating habits and be clingy. A 2,013 report stated that in Ireland, 37% of all perpetrators of child sexual violence are children, with 97% being males.


Female victims

The effects of rape can include both the initial physical trauma as well as deep psychological trauma. Quite often, the victim's intimate relationship disintegrates within one year after the rape. This only adds to the psychological impact of the rape on the victim. The most common and lasting effects of rape involve mental health concerns and diminished social confidence. Victims may use self-blame as an avoidance coping tool that in turn slows or, stops the healing process. The fear of contracting a sexually transmitted disease and/or being pregnant from rape can significantly increase the victim’s trauma.


Male victims

Many people do not take the sexual assault of men seriously and believe that they cannot be victims. A reluctance by male victims of sexual abuse to disclose their abuse can be a barrier to the victim’s treatment. This treatment can often be of significant help in resolving the victim’s feelings of shame, anger, guilt, fear and depression following the assault. Male victims of rape have trouble accepting their rape as real, not only because it happened to them, but that it happened at all. Most male victims experience long term negative psychological and behavioural effects after the assault. In almost all cases these included loss of self-respect depression, fantasies about revenge, flashbacks, anxiety and an increased sense of vulnerability. 


Adults who were abused as children

Children who have been abused may experience physical and/or emotional harm. At times the effects of their abuse can be short term, however they can be taken into adulthood. If someone has been abused as a child, it is more likely that they will suffer abuse again. This is known as re-victimisation.


The long-term effects of abuse include:

  • anger,

  • anxiety

  • anti-social behaviour

  • criminal behaviour

  • depression

  • difficulties in communicating

  • disturbing thoughts

  • eating disorders

  • learning difficulties, lower educational attainment

  • memories that cause distress or confusion

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • problems with alcohol or drugs

  • poor physical health such as obesity, aches and pains

  • sadness or low self-esteem

  • self-harm

  • struggling with parenting or relationships

  • suicidal thoughts

  • worrying that their abuser is still a threat to themselves or others

Therapy

The starting point for the victim of sexual abuse is in establishing trust in the therapeutic relationship as many client’s fear that they won’t be believed. This trust will enable the client to feel safe and not to feel obliged that they must disclose anything they’re not ready to talk about. Therapy enables the victim to face what has happened to them and to understand and address the impact the sexual abuse has had/is having on their life.

 

Gene Barry Psychotherapist

© Gene Barry