How the trauma of sexual abuse impact a person’s life and ways to avoid or recover from its effects.
Updated: May 16
Question: What are the different types of trauma?
Many different situations and events can negatively impact people's lives. When a child feels intensely threatened by an event, he or she is involved in or witnesses, we call that event a trauma. While the Adverse Childhood Experience study published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 1998 covered ten types of trauma. According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), there are 12 different forms of trauma. Here is a list of traumatic events or trauma types to which children and adolescents can be exposed:
Bullying: Bullying is a deliberate and unsolicited action that occurs with the intent of inflicting social, emotional, physical, and psychological harm to someone who often is perceived as being less powerful.
Community Violence: Community violence is exposure to intentional acts of interpersonal violence committed in public areas by individuals who are not intimately related to the victim.
Complex Trauma: Complex trauma describes both children's exposure to multiple traumatic events—often of an invasive, interpersonal nature—and the wide-ranging, long-term effects of this exposure.
Disasters: Natural disasters include hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires, tsunamis, and floods, as well as extreme weather events such as blizzards, droughts, extreme heat, and wind storms.
Early Childhood Trauma: Early childhood trauma generally refers to the traumatic experiences of children aged 0-6.
Intimate Partner Violence: Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), also referred to as domestic violence, occurs when an individual purposely causes harm or threatens the risk of harm to any past or current partner or spouse.
Medical Trauma: Pediatric medical traumatic stress refers to a set of psychological and physiological responses of children and their families to single or multiple medical events.
Physical Abuse: Physical abuse occurs when a parent or caregiver commits an act that results in bodily injury to a child or adolescent.
Refugee Trauma: Many refugees, especially children, have experienced trauma related to war or persecution that may affect their mental and physical health long after the events.
Sexual Abuse: Child sexual abuse is any interaction between a child and an adult (or another child). The child is used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator or an observer.
Terrorism and Violence: Families and children may be profoundly affected by mass violence, acts of terrorism, or community trauma in the form of shootings, bombings, or other types of attacks.
Traumatic Grief: While many children adjust well after the death of loved ones, other children have ongoing difficulties that interfere with everyday life and make it difficult to recall their loved ones' positive memories.
Question: Are the effects of traumas the same?
The effects may be different because everyone responds to trauma differently. The effects can be based on the individual's environment, severity, duration, intensity, involvement, and support. Thus, as counselors, our approach to an individual's trauma, recovery time, intervention, and treatment plan can also be different. Nevertheless, for treatment to be most effective, we must take a wholistic approach.
Question: What are some of the statistics on sexual abuse?
Based on data from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN),
About one in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. About one in seven girls and one in 25 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.
Only about 38% of child victims disclose the fact that they have been sexually abused.
Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) occur to children ages 17 and under. Youths have higher rates of sexual assault victimization than do adults.
Those who molest children look and act just like everyone else. Abusers can be neighbors, friends, and family members. People who sexually abuse children can be found in families, schools, churches, recreation centers, youth sports leagues, and any other place children gather.
About 90% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser. Only 10% of sexually abused children are abused by a stranger. Approximately 30% of children who are sexually abused are abused by family members.
Adolescent sex offenders are more responsive to treatment than adults. They do not appear to continue to offend into adulthood, primarily when provided with appropriate treatment.
Question: How does the trauma of sexual abuse impact a person's life?
Emotional and mental health problems are often the first consequence and sign of child sexual abuse. Children may start exhibiting anxiety and depression symptoms and suicide attempts. Sexual behavior problems and over-sexualized behavior are pervasive consequences of child sexual abuse.
Academic problems in childhood are a common symptom of sexual abuse. Sexually abused children performed lower on psychometric tests measuring cognitive ability, academic achievement, and memory assessments than same-age non-sexually abused cohorts.
Substance abuse problems beginning in childhood or adolescence are some of the most common consequences of child sexual abuse.
Delinquency and crime, often stemming from substance abuse, are more prevalent in adolescents with a history of child sexual abuse.
The risk of teen pregnancy is much higher for girls with a history of child sexual abuse.
Question: Are there any long-term effects?
Here are some possible long-term effects:
Substance abuse problems are a common consequence for adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
Mental health problems are a common long-term consequence of child sexual abuse.
Meta-analysis research looking at the association between childhood sexual abuse outcome, published in Lancet Psychiatry Oct. 2019, identified long term consequences in three main categories, psychiatric, psychosocial, and physical health conditions.
Adult psychiatric diagnoses includes, anxiety, depression, self-injury, social phobias, eating disorder, and suicidal thoughts.
Psychosocial outcomes: includes substance misuse and engage in other risky behaviors.
Child sexual abuse is also associated with physical health problems in adulthood.
Physical Health: Conditions such as fibromyalgia, HIV, and other things identified from the Adverse Childhood Experience's (ACE) study. Male sexual abuse survivors have twice the HIV-infection rate of non-abused males. In a study of HIV-infected 12 to 20-year-olds, 41% reported a sexual abuse history.
These include fibromyalgia, severe premenstrual syndrome, chronic headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and a wide range of reproductive and sexual health complaints, including excessive bleeding, amenorrhea, pain during intercourse, and menstrual irregularity.
Obesity and eating disorders are more common in women who have a history of child sexual abuse. Furthermore, adults with a history of child sexual abuse are 30% more likely than their non-abused peers to have a severe medical condition such as diabetes, cancer, heart problems, stroke, or hypertension.
In 20 years of mental health counseling, sexually abused clients have reported the following concerns:
1) Their view of sex/sexuality tends to be negative
2) Impacts their marriage
3) Lost self-identity
4) Engages in risky behaviors
5) Blames yourself
6) Tends to avoid meaningful relationships
7) Their image of God tends to be negative
Question: How can a person avoid or recover from these possible adverse effects of sexual abuse?
Here's an acronym I came up with to help you remember the following tips: BUT²
BE aware – Awareness is essential for many reasons. You can consciously decide you're not going to be a victim regardless of what the research shows. Learn the possible effects that you can get help if you need it.
USE your story for good – Sexual abuse has affected the lives of many. Join the fight to speak against the crime and find others you can support at they are struggling. Use your story to shed light and offer hope to others.
TRAIN your brain to behave – Learn to process your thinking by telling yourself the truth based on God's Words. The Bible is full of stories and inspirational texts that provide hope and encouragement. Train your mind to have the right thought with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). With CBT, you can learn to change the way you think, which changes the way you feel. All of that then changes how you view the world and how you handle difficult situations when they do arise. The better you become at disrupting those negative thoughts, the happier you will be.
TAKE action – Many are searching for ways to deal with their trauma. It is always a good idea to seek help from counselors or others. However, did you know that talking about your trauma alone will not help free your mind of the trauma? There are things you can do to help your mind in the healing process. Consider engaging in activities that will improve the brain and mind function better – exercise, sleep, eat clean wholesome foods, deep breathing to help clean blood flow into the brain. These activities are essential.
Question: Any last thoughts for our readers to provide them with hope, especially for those who have experienced sexual abuse?
All this research may show adverse long-term outcomes of childhood sexual abuse – BUT², there is hope. "For God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever may believe in Him should not perish BUT² have eternal life” John 3:16. What the Enemy meant for evil, BUT² God can turn it around! Research published by the Trauma Violence Abuse journal on Oct. 2015 shows the percentage of Child Sexual abuse survivors who were found to have a normal functioning level despite a history of sexual abuse ranging from 10% to 53%. The protective factors that had the best empirical support were education, interpersonal and emotional competence, control beliefs, active coping, optimism, social attachment, external attribution of blame, and, most importantly, support from the family and the broader social environment.
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Peterson, S. (2018, March 19). Effects. Retrieved October 06, 2020, from https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/sexual-abuse/effects
Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., . . . Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245-258. doi:10.1016/s0749-3797(98)00017-8
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