Sex Abuse & Trauma
Survive the Pain, Conquer the Fear
Every year, millions of cases of sexual abuse are reported. A startling 90% of the abusers are parents, siblings, extended family, friends or neighbors. Many victims have difficulty blaming their abuser, resulting in thousands of abuse cases going unreported.
While females are 10% more likely to experience sexual abuse than males, approximately 30% of American men have endured sexual abuse of some kind. And the numbers are rising.
An increasing number of cases where women are the abusers has also been reported.
Because sexual abuse can be very difficult to prove with physical evidence, and especially because many victims will deny that abuse has taken place in order to protect their abuser, it is vitally important for us to know the forms of sexual abuse and the signs that it has occurred.
Forms of Sexual Abuse
There are two major forms of sexual abuse: that which includes touching (overt) and that which does not include touching (covert). The two can exist together within an abusive relationship, or one may eventually lead to the other.
Both can cause serious, long-term emotional and physical trauma to the victim.
It’s important to remember that bodily contact is not required in order for abuse to have occurred.
Overt Sexual Abuse
Any physical contact that causes distress, pain, fear or confusion is unhealthy, but may not necessarily be deemed sexual abuse.
When someone initiates physical contact for the sake of their own personal, sexual gratification with another person who is an unaware and/or unwilling participant, overt sexual abuse has occurred.
The abuser may try to cover up their actions, denying the fact that they are inappropriate. The actions may be passed off as signs of affection or love, which in turn may leave the victim feeling confused and guilty.
- A relative may bathe a child in a manner that makes the child uncomfortable or fearful, touching the child’s genitals under the pretense of cleaning, when the actual motive is sexual in nature.
- A spouse or partner may initiate sex when their partner is unwilling, relying on guilt or physical strength to force them to comply. The victim in this situation may feel like it’s their own fault for not wanting to please their partner.
An abuser will not always try to disguise their motives. But even in cases where abuse has obviously, overtly occurred, the victim may still blame themselves for what has happened to them or try to protect their abuser.
Due to the love and loyalty which may lay between an abuser and victim, many victims remain in unhealthy sexual relationships. The emotional trauma which results from this sort of relationship–or any abusive relationship–runs very deep and is very destructive.
Covert Sexual Abuse
The victim of covert sexual abuse carries deep wounds despite the lack of obvious physical abuse. Though it can be difficult to prove that the abuse has occurred, the damage experienced by the victim requires treatment.
Some abusers may be unaware that they are in fact causing harm to the victim. When confronted about the inappropriate nature of their actions, they may become defensive and angry, denying the possibility that their behavior is in any way sexually abusive.
Likewise, many victims of covert sexual abuse will go years without knowing that they have been abused, and that these experiences have created emotional wounds and unhealthy patterns within their own lives. Some will never seek help at all, carrying the scars of their abuse with them all their lives.
- A mother might rely too heavily for emotional support on her son, placing the responsibilities of a romantic partner on him. She may overburden him with information about her personal life, or ask physical favors of him such as sleeping in her bed when she’s lonely.
- In another situation, a man may jokingly expose himself to his female friend, or insist that she undress in front of him. He may use humor to cover up his behavior, causing his friend to feel confused and embarrassed, or even convincing her that the real problem is her own shyness and low self esteem.
The key to recognizing when covert abuse has occurred is in identifying the way certain experiences have affected an individual.
A young woman whose relationship with her father figure is inappropriately physical and bares the emotional intimacy of a romantic relationship may harbor deep rooted confusion which interferes with her ability to have healthy relationships as an adult.
The son whose mother over shares and overburdens him with her personal life and emotional needs might become bitter and find later that he either distrusts women, or becomes codependent with them–putting their needs before his own and neglecting his emotional and physical health.
Reading the Signs of Sexual Abuse
Thousands of people in this world have experienced some form of sexual abuse. A good many may be unaware of the way this abuse is currently affecting them.
So, how can you know when sexual abuse has happened to you or your loved one?
In cases of rape, molestation or incest, where the abuse is overtly physical, victims may experience flashbacks of the trauma, reliving the event over and over. They may also have night terrors, difficulty sleeping, depression or anxiety, problems relating to others or destructive lifestyle patterns and relationships.
The results of covert abuse may not be as extreme, but should regardless be taken very seriously. Sexual abuse of any form can cause significant emotional trauma and long term psychological problems.
If you are worried that a loved one may be the victim of sexual abuse, it’s important to approach them respectfully with compassion and encourage them to seek help. A person who has experienced overt or covert abuse carries deep wounds that require time, patience and support to properly heal.
If you are a victim of sexual abuse, there are many options available to you with real, positive results.
Therapy plays a vital role in helping people heal and move forward from what they have experienced. Building a relationship with your therapist will help you to regain the ability to trust and create a safe environment for you to begin the process of healing.
Get in touch with us today and let us help you build a healthier, happier life. We can help to restore the confidence, independence and happiness that the abuse stole from you.