Sexual abuse – what is it?
The term Sexual abuse most commonly refers to a young person below the age of sixteen in sexual activity with an older person. It is referred to as sexual abuse because it is assumed in our society that a young person under the age of 16 may be unable to consent to sex because they are still developing emotionally.
It is therefore suggested that by definition the person above the age of 16 may be taking advantage of the younger one since a person under sixteen cannot give informed consent to Sexual Activity in the eyes of the law.
The following terms may be used to describe sexual abuse:
- Child abuse
Usually a victim of sexual abuse cannot understand fully the implications of what is happening at the time; therefore although he or she may appear to consent to the activity, the consent is not truly informed. Although the abuser may also be young, there is usually a significant age difference and difference of status between the parties which puts the abuser in a position of power. This power difference means that even where there is apparent acquiescence, this is usually based on fear of the consequences of refusal and so is not true consent.
What is sexual abuse
The term sexual abuse may also be applied when one person uses the power they have over another adult – usually because they are in a position of trust or influence to take advantage sexually.
Sexual abuse can be an isolated or a recurrent event. The activities involved can range from inappropriate touching to sexual penetration. The Abuse can be disguised as play or it may be a more overt assault. The abuser may be a relative, an acquaintance or a stranger. While the abuse is often frightening and traumatic at the time it occurs, some feelings may not fully impact until a later date when the occurrence is better understood, it is normal to enjoy sexual pleasure, so if you were abused and felt some enjoyment, it is still abuse.
Commonly those who are currently experiencing abuse are referred to as victims of sexual abuse and those whose experience of abuse is in the past are referred to as adult survivors of sexual abuse.
Examples of Sexual Abuse may include:
- A girl who was Sexually Abused by her Father until her Teens when she eventually reported what was happening with the result that her Father was tried and imprisoned.
- A boy who was Abused by his football coach and thought he was the only one until a number of boys reported being similarly Abused several years later.
- A young girl whose Teenage step-brother used to play games with her at an early age which she realised when she reached puberty had been Sexual Abusive.
- A boy who was regularly Abused by a trusted uncle and aunt with whom he was often sent to stay. This Abuse took place over a number of years during which he was unable to say why he did not wish to visit these relatives.
- Two sisters who both suffered Abuse at the hands of a grandfather but who never spoke about it until many years later.
The experience of Abuse is not restricted to one gender and indeed abusers are not invariably male, many are female. Most recent estimates in Britain suggest at least 10% of children suffer sexual abuse at some time, with two thirds of the victims being girls. In over 90% of the cases the perpetrator of the abuse is male.
How someone who is being abused might feel now and in the future
Victims often say they are feeling very alone with the experience of abuse. Often they are afraid of telling, because of fear of retribution or the consequences for the family. Victims frequently feel they will not be believed or taken seriously if they tell of what has happened, and this fear can be confirmed when they do try to raise the matter. Victims frequently feel guilty. The Abuser may suggest they are to blame for the Abuse or they may take responsibility upon themselves. Children naturally tend to assume responsibility for events that are not of their making, and this is particularly true in the case of Abuse. The guilt is increased if the child has found any aspect of the Abuse gratifying or pleasant, these are normal bodily reactions to being stimulated and do not detract from the fact that the abuser is wrong, your body only responds as it is designed to. Victims or survivors commonly comment on feeling extremely scared and confused by the Abusive experience. Past abuse can make it difficult for people to commit to lasting, loving relationships and trust will often be an issue
A Survivor’s Experiences in Later Life
Sometimes the experience of Abuse appears to be wholly or partially forgotten for some years while the survivor continues with their life. Memories may resurface however when the person is settled in a safe environment, or may be triggered by specific events such as beginning a Sexual Relationship or becoming a Parent.
The memories can bring intense feelings and experiences:
Flashbacks and nightmares. Recollections of the Abusive experience may intrude into the waking thoughts or may recur in dreams. Shame and guilt. The survivor may blame themselves, may suffer from Low Self-Esteem or may feel deeply embarrassed about seeking help. They may become Depressed, Harm themselves and have thoughts of Suicide. Intense anger. This may be directed at the Abuser, and may be linked with a wish to confront or to completely avoid them. It may also be directed at others who seem to have colluded with the Abuse or may be more general. Disrupted relational patterns. Some Survivors find they tend to avoid Intimate Relationships and are distrustful of the motives of all other people. Others may find they tend to form very Intense Intimate Relationships which can be Emotionally draining.
Fear of the consequences of the Abuse. Survivors may wonder whether they will be able to form normal Relationships or whether they might become Abusers themselves. There may be difficulties in enjoying Normal Sexual Activities. Isolation and stigmatisation. Survivors may feel they are totally alone with their experience. They can feel that they have been marked out and that somehow others know of their history without being told and so treat them differently. As with human response to any Trauma, the degree of the reaction can vary widely between individuals. Some people apparently come to terms with very severe Abuse comparatively easily; others find the Abuse has a lasting effect on them. Neither of these responses is more correct or more healthy than the other.
Please remember – it was not your fault.
Helping yourself being good to yourself
Try not to blame yourself. No matter what the circumstances of the Sexual Abuse of a child, it is never the Fault or responsibility of that child. Even if you are aware that there was some degree of collusion or you feel in hindsight that you wish you had been able to act differently, this does not lessen the absolute truth that it is the duty of Adults to Care for children and protect them from exploitation and harm of any kind.
Some survivors find it helpful to observe children who are the same age that they were when the Abuse took place in order to underline for them how great the power difference between Adults and children really is and how easy it is for an older person to manipulate the trust, innocence and vulnerability of a child.
Take care of yourself now
The fact that something bad has been done to you is not a reason to deny yourself pleasure, or to punish yourself. It is in fact a reason to care for yourself. If you can learn to treat your body with respect and kindness, you will help the healing process. Therefore look for simple ways to show care for yourself and kindness to your body. If you find you are tempted to self harm – for example by starving or overindulging with food, by cutting yourself or even by attempting suicide – seek help and support immediately so that you can begin to bring this behaviour under control.
Find appropriate outlets for your feelings
If you have been Abused you have a perfectly good reason to be very Angry and full of grief. It can be hard to know what to do with these feelings. It may not be possible or helpful to express them to the person responsible. Even if you do, he or she may well fail to accept responsibility. Feelings can be helped by finding others who will listen to your story sympathetically and help you express yourself. Sexual abuse therapy is now available online, removing some of the barriers to your healing. You can remain completely anonymous with an online counsellor or online therapist.
Writing down what you feel can help – many survivors find it helpful to write down their feelings in the form of a letter – you don’t have to send it. Many activities can help relieve pent up feelings of Anger – exercise, sport, or simply going somewhere private or noisy and shouting. Grief can be relieved by allowing time to reflect and by expressing the sadness. You may fear that once you allow these feelings to emerge they may take you over. This is a natural fear, however in fact the opposite tends to be the case – once a feeling is allowed adequate expression it becomes more easy to control.
Try and find both support and privacy
Abuse can be a profoundly isolating experience. Even when you do speak about it, people may either dismiss what you tell them or they may over-react. However as is now recognised, Abuse is an all too common experience, so you are certainly not alone in what you have suffered. There are now many agencies which will offer appropriate support and have much expertise in helping survivors heal themselves. We list some below.
Some people have the opposite experience and find that the Abuse which has happened to them has become common knowledge, and as a result feel that their privacy has been invaded. Remember you only need to tell the people who you want to tell and it is up to you to decide how much you want to tell them. Certainly no-one will be able to guess what has happened to you if you decide not to tell them and no-one has the right to force their opinions or their advice on you.
Do not despair
Human beings are remarkably resilient and have a vast capacity for healing themselves. You may well feel that you have been irreversibly damaged emotionally or even physically, that you may not ever be able to form functioning relationships or have an enjoyable sex life or that you will never recover. However this is not likely to be the case. Although you can never change your history, with time and care you can make sense of what has happened to you and can minimise the negative effects. I have the skills, experience, understanding and the patience to help you.
If we have experienced sexual abuse in the past, even if it did not seem unpleasant at the time, it may affect our relationships with ourselves and others in the future. We may have problems trusting people or with intimate and sexual relationships for example.
Online therapy is ideal for people worried about talking about this difficult issue, there will be less pressure than say talking to a face to face therapist and you can talk to a caring professional who understands and wants to help. You can talk anonymously and I will not keep any record of anything you tell me, unless you want me to.
If you would like to talk to a female counsellor, I can arrange that too.
Professional and experienced Online Counsellor (Therapist) and Online Life Coach Paul Parkin’s Sexual Abuse Counselling experience.
I am an experienced, professional online counsellor, with over 15 years experience working as a counsellor (therapist) and life coach offering confidential, affordable counselling online to clients anywhere in the world. Book a 50 min session click here.
By living a simple life and working from home I have reduced my costs enabling me to reduce the session fees for clients, making counselling online more accessible to people seeking counselling online.
I worked for several years in the field of sexual abuse counselling and therapy. I have worked with children and adults who have survived but struggled with this issue. When we are abused in this way our trust is shattered, if the abuser was a close family member, the following feelings can be very confusing and our reality can be shook to the core.
I understands the need for a trusting therapeutic relationship and will work to create this in order to provide a safe environment for clients to discuss and learn how to move forward to a better place. Online Counselling and Therapy is especially helpful in cases of abuse as help can be found without the need to leave the safety of a clients home or even their work place.
My brother touched me every time my parents were out of the house. I was 12 and he was 16. I am now 30 and he is 34. I let him do it and feel bad because I liked how it felt, but now I feel dirty and ashamed.
We get on well now but I want to stop feeling dirty. Help please, I fantasise about him making love to me still now. I feel so depressed.
Thank you for your message. Please do not feel bad that you felt some pleasant feelings, when this was happening, our bodies are designed to respond in that way, it’s totally natural and normal to enjoy being touched.
I think it would be best if you felt able to chat to me online so that I can start helping you feel better about this past hurt. You don’t have to let it ruin your future any longer.
We can explore your current feelings and make sense of them, there is probably an emotional reason for your fantasies.
You can remain anonymous and chat to me online, this way of working is very popular for issues such as this as you can access the service from home or work and feel more relaxed about it.
Please have a look at the information on my website about depression
I look forward to helping you A.
Best wishes Paul, online counsellor (therapist) and online life coach.