Childhood sexual abuse includes childhood incest where there has been any sexual activity between a child and a related adult, whatever the specific kinship. Included also is symbolic relationship incest where say uncle to niece, step-parent to dependent child, teacher-child or clergy-child are included.
Sexual abuse is now more openly discussed, attracts mandatory reporting by clinicians and professions interacting with children, and is now recognised as a major issue within society, with multi-generational implications. The recent Royal Commissions into Church and Religious Order sexual abuse of children under their care or schooling highlights how ingrained and systemic childhood sexual abuse was in Australia’s past, and how powerless the children were to get a response from adults to stop it occurring.
There have been shifts in attitudes to incest and sexual abuse within Australia since the 1960’s where the subject was taboo. The social rights movement and liberation of women’s rights has assisted in this regard.
Debate has also occurred as Australia became more multi-cultural and accepted immigrants and refugees from cultures where incest, genital mutilation of women, and treatment toward women in general, created debate and reaction. The ongoing coverage in the media of abuse survivors has highlighted the seriousness of this as an issue that needs to be discussed in the community.
At the same time there has been an evolution of legal, social and health policies which better address sexual abuse and incest issues. There is subsequently a better awareness and readiness on the part of the public and the mental health professions to address the problem.
Childhood sexual abuse is considered one of the worst forms of trauma, and its effects, long term signs and symptoms are now found to span a large range of conditions documented in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders(DSM-V).
It is considered “soul murder” as it literally robs the child victim of their innocence, severely disrupts their developing ego structure and sense of Self, and will later distort the then adults ability to function and to form healthy relationships with themselves and others.
Given a child is entirely dependent on adults for their safety, guidance and appropriate gestures of love and nurturance, it is easy to see how this vulnerable group can be targeted and abused. American statistics indicate that approximately 1 in 5 girls report at least one incident unwanted sexual touching or interaction by persons at least 5 years older than them before the age of 18.
Nearly 1 in 10 boys reported the same outcome in this same study. Whilst sexual abuse cuts across all of societies demographics and socio-economic and geographical indicators, the evidence is that childhood sexual abuse most commonly occurs within families.
An adult survivor of child sexual abuse cannot be categorised in any way, such are the complex dynamics and deep trauma at work in this situation. Generally speaking, adults will normally have one of two postures towards life after such abuse, they will either collapse or they will rise above the abuse.
The collapsed outcome is an adult who often has easily recognisable symptoms and problems that stop them from being functional in one or more areas of their life, often with depressive, or addictive, or victim status personas, or require ongoing medical assistance to cope with life.
The second outcome where one “rises above the abuse and its shame” are nominally those who dissociate from the abuse trauma, soldier on and are able to maintain for some time an intact functional life in work and social settings, but who often withdraw or have impairment issues in intimate relationships.
Some behaviours and coping mechanisms common to both groups can include impulses to abuse another person in some way, sexual promiscuity or sexual frigidity or fluctuations between the two, prostitution, alcohol or drug dependency, suicidal thinking or attempts, self mutilation, abusive relationships or absence from relationships. There is a body of evidence that psychosomatic medical disorders are seen to accompany sexually abused children later in life.
Case histories have shown survivors can experience unexplained pelvic pains, irritable-bowel syndrome, ectopic pregnancy, endometriosis, Thrush, Candida, Cervical cancers, and rashes.
Adults who were sexually abused as children often are secretive and shame based. This is often due to the dynamic in childhood where the adult abuser used threats and manipulation against the child in order to cover up and maintain the secret of the abuse.
Children instinctively trust adults and get their cues, reality and guidance from the same adult that then abuses them. Common manipulation by the abuser of the child victim include telling the child that they enjoyed their “game” and are responsible for what is being done to them.
Another common threat is that the other parent or other siblings will be hurt or killed if the victim tells anyone, or that they will be blamed or that no one will believe them. Some abusers play on the natural curiosity and tactile nature of the child and do not physically hurt the child. In these cases the child will ten grow up with guilt that “they enjoyed it” and therefore they are responsible or have guilt or shame over what happened. This too will bind them to secrecy. .
Children develop emerging infantile sexual impulses and reality of their bodies as they grow. Children do not have the concept of adult sexuality, nor are they able to give consent, nor understand that what is being done to them is wrong.
Children are very trusting and have a natural need for affection and approval. Children are often not able to say “No”, enforce “No” and may want love and survival needs from the very person who they need to say “No” to.
They are in a power inequality bind, and so have very little power over what happens in an abuse situation as well as what happens in the rest of their lives. Children are trapped as they are commonly taught to obey adults, trust their parents and extended family, and to look to them for safety and guidance.
There are energetic, emotional, cognitive and physical considerations and impacts on an adult from childhood sexual abuse and incest. Refer to our article “The Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse on The Human Condition” in the articles section of the website.
Childhood Sexual abuse can be healed and the victim able to reclaim their power, their dignity, and rights that were taken from them in childhood. The repair work can involve creating resources, teaching boundaries and life skills.
It may also include dealing with secondary effects and issues such as addictions, doing rage and grief emotional protest work, and working towards integrating all aspects of the person back into their humanity. Some sufferers may need Psychiatric or medical help whilst dealing with deep sexual abuse issues.