The Need for Help
The high numbers of children who have been sexually abused – combined with a societal discomfort with discussing the problem – has created a huge need for help for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Carrying this burden untreated hurts survivors and the community, leading to:
- difficulty forming and maintaining stable relationships
- difficulty parenting
- domestic violence
- substance abuse
- under- or unemployment
- debilitating mental health difficulties
Numbers are staggering
Sexual abuse of children is an epidemic tragedy. The number of children sexually abused before 18 is estimated to be 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys. The problem of abuse, left untreated, leads to decreased safety and increased vulnerability, allowing the ripple effect of abuse to spread to lives beyond the victim. See more facts about childhood sexual abuse.
Unspeakable betrayal is often kept secret
Offenders wield immense power and control over vulnerable children. They threaten, isolate and manipulate their victims into keeping the abuse secret. Many children attempt to alert trusted adults, who often miss cues or fail to respond appropriately. In more than 89 percent of cases, the offender is someone the child trusts, typically a close family member. That allows the abuse to remain hidden and repeated over long periods of time.
Silence perpetuates the generational cycle
Other issues once considered taboo, such as alcoholism and domestic violence, have gained awareness over the past 50 years. Unfortunately many people are still uncomfortable discussing childhood sexual abuse. Long considered shameful for the family and,sadly, for the victim, the secrecy of this unspeakable crime helps perpetuate the generational cycle of abuse.
Ripple effect of behavior
Many teen victims display delinquent behavior, turn to alcohol or drugs, are diagnosed as mentally ill, or run away to live on the streets. Yet, because the taboo surrounding sexual abuse exists, the underlying cause of their behavior typically goes unrecognized. Adulthood does not automatically erase or mediate the effects of abuse. In fact, the life effects of abuse often compound as life becomes more complex, responsibilities increase and adult relationships are formed.
Consequences are long term
Adult victims of sexual abuse may suffer everyday effects decades after the abuse occurred. For some, painful memories and vivid flashbacks surface only during times of stress. For others, thoughts about the abuse intrude on daily life or routinely disrupt sleep. Survivors rarely feel safe and have difficulty trusting even close friends and loved ones. Many experience a profound sense of shame and numbness or have deep anger and rage that are difficult to keep under control. Other survivors seek to distance themselves from the abuse by unrealistic or perfectionistic standards and expectations of superior achievement.
Recognizing symptoms to reclaim lives
Understanding common symptoms can serve to help survivors recognize that help is necessary. Most survivors do not receive treatment in childhood. Some survivors go to incredible lengths to conceal the abuse after reaching adulthood, further undermining their personal and/or professional lives. Survivors and their children are at an increased risk of both physical and sexual abuse. Identification of the impact of abuse is often the first step to seeking help and begins the journey to healing the wounds of the past.