Sexual abuse is sexual activity without giving mature consent. It may occur on one occasion or on several occasions. It is common for the perpetrator to be known to the victim of the sexual abuse, for example, they may be a relative or family friend. The perpetrator may use threat, be forceful and be manipulative. Males and females of all ages can be victims of sexual abuse. It is also important to be aware that perpetrators can be male or female and adults or children.
It is common for victims of sexual abuse to not tell anyone. This may be because the perpetrator has threatened them, they may not understand the abuse that they have experienced, they fear they will not be believed, or they may have come to feel that they are to blame and they may feel ashamed. It may only be several years later that someone discloses sexual abuse perhaps due to something having triggered this for them, such as becoming a new parent, relationship difficulties and general high stress levels.
If you have been brave and been able to tell someone of the abuse you have experienced, hopefully you have received a compassionate response. However, unfortunately some people report having bad experiences when telling others (such as relatives, friends, police) of the abuse. For example, they have not been believed, the problem is ‘swept under the carpet’ and there may be elements that are traumatic (e.g. re-living the trauma, physical examination). This can add to their struggles with having experienced sexual abuse.
The Impact of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse can have a significant detrimental impact upon an individual’s emotional wellbeing. It can contribute to, for example, depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, eating difficulties, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), relationship difficulties, psychosexual difficulties, self-harm and substance abuse. Some people may experience such difficulties many years after the sexual abuse.
Therapy for Sexual Abuse and its Impact
It can be difficult to take that step and come to therapy for difficulties around sexual abuse. You will be in a confidential, warm and supportive environment to help you to feel more at ease. During therapy you will have a safe place to explore your emotions and thoughts around the abuse and process your memories. You can be helped to learn coping strategies to address difficulties around, for example, anxiety, depression, relationship issues and PTSD. Through therapy the negative effects of the abuse can be reduced whilst helping you to heal.