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Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse is any type of sexual assault on a child under 16. It takes many forms: explicit sexual talk; showing pornography; sexual touching; lack of privacy to bath or undress; masturbation; and sexual intercourse.

In more than three quarters of cases, an adult the child knows and trusts commits the abuse. The vast majority of abusers are men but women are also capable of sexual abuse.

Many children do not tell anyone about the abuse because they:

  • Are threatened with further abuse and violence if they tell
  • Are afraid that no one will believe them
  • Think they are to blame for the abuse
  • Cannot describe or understand what has happened to them
  • Want to protect the family or even the abuser

If this happened to you as a child, you cannot be responsible for consenting to an act you didn’t understand, were forced into or had no choice about.

No matter how long ago you were abused, your feelings about what happened to you are important. You have the right to be listened to, no matter what you want to say. Through speaking about your abuse you may be able to overcome any difficulties that you experience as an adult.

The abuser is always to blame for the abuse. Some children are made or forced to abuse other children as part of their abuse. They often have no choice. They may be threatened with serious harm if they do not comply. If this happened to you, you are not to blame

A friend/family member has survived abuse, how can I help?

It is important for a survivor of rape, sexual abuse or sexual exploitation to be listened to, and believed, whether they have just been attacked, or are talking about events that happened some time ago, for example, in their childhood.

This webpage aims to give some helpful information on how to respond if you are in the situation where a family member, partner or friend has just started speaking out about their own experience of rape, child sexual abuse or sexual exploitation. Do not tell them to forget about it.

Do not say, “it happened a long time ago, why does it suddenly bother you now?” Healing can take time and some people block out or try to forget traumatic events. This is a way of coping with what has happened. Remembering can be triggered by events such as the birth of a baby, a T.V. programme, marriage, changing job, starting a new relationship etc…

Do not ask them why they did not fight back. People can freeze when confronted with a terrifying situation and this can make them feel guilty or to blame for what has happened. Do not ask why they did not say anything sooner. If it happened when they were young they may have tried to tell someone but where ignored or disbelieved or they may have been threatened or been too frightened to say anything.

Do not tell them what to do. They need to be in control of their own decisions about matters that affect them. You can help them to explore options that are available to them. Do not pressure them into doing, or talking about things they are not ready to face. When they are ready they will speak.

“How can I help?”

Listen – to what she has to say and let her take her time. It might not be easy for her to start talking about an event that she has kept silent about for a long time. It may be difficult because she may have been told not to tell by the abuser at the time. Believe – what you are told. People rarely lie about rape or sexual abuse. Why would they? It is important to believe what they are saying. Respect – her feelings and decisions. If she feels like crying, let her, it can be part of her healing process.

Remember – it is not her fault – no-one asks to be abused or deserves it and she cannot be blamed for not preventing the abuse. The blame always lies with abuser.

Recognise – the courage it takes for a survivor to speak up. Her courage should be acknowledge and praised. It takes a great deal of strength to face up to fears and also to talk about their experience.

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