Child sexual abuse can be hard to define. It’s generally considered that childhood sexual abuse involves another person (adult, sibling, peer) who forces or coerces a child into sexual activity. This activity may include fondling of a child’s genitals, masturbation, oral-genital contact, digital penetration, vaginal and anal intercourse. It’s important to note that child sexual abuse is not restricted to simply physical contact – it may include exposure, voyeurism, and child pornography. Children who are sexually abused have a strikingly different developmental course than children who have not been abused. If left untreated, the scars of childhood sexual abuse will last a lifetime. When the abuse is revisited later in life, post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms may develop.
Children and adolescents of all races, cultures, and economic statuses are at equal risk to child sexual abuse. While studies show that girls are often sexually abused more than boys, this may be due to the fact that boys may not report the abuse. There are a variety of reasons a child may not report the sexual abuse. These include:
- The victim does not know the sexual abuse isn’t normal
- The victim doesn’t know that there is help available
- The victim may fear the consequences of reporting the abuse
- The victim may believe that no one will believe them if they report the abuse
- The victim may be afraid of the way other people may react
- The victim may have been threatened by the abuser
If you have suffered childhood sexual abuse, it does not have to define you. You are not alone. According to experts in the field, child sexual abuse is widespread and often under-reported. Let The Refuge help you heal from the scars of child sexual abuse and learn to lead a life filled with joy, happiness, and pleasure.
Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Children who have been the victim of childhood sexual abuse often suffer a wide variety of psychological and behavioral problems that can range from mild to severe. Short term symptoms of childhood sexual abuse may include:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Acting out
- Low self-esteem
- Immaturity and regression
- Decreased physical heath
- Inappropriate sexual behavior
- Sexual interest
- Sexual acting out
These problems continue into adolescence, which is usually when the first symptoms of PTSD emerge. These boys and girls have a younger age of voluntary sexual intercourse compared to same-age peers. In later adolescence, patterns of disturbed sexuality also develop.
At this stage, in addition to increasing symptoms of depression and PTSD, pathological levels of dissociative symptoms become apparent. Additional symptoms and effects seen in late adolescence to early adulthood include:
- Health problems
- Sleep difficulties
- Digestive and gastrointestinal distress
- Poor decision-making skills
- Inability to concentrate or pay attention
- Memory problems
- Sexual promiscuity
- Sexual refusal
Childhood sexual abuse victims are twice as likely to experience subsequent acts of abuse, rape, physical attacks, and domestic violence. Additionally, these children are four times as likely to engage in self-harm episodes or suicide attempts, and experience 20% more additional lifetime traumas, compared to their peers. Abused women also show a higher rate of teenage pregnancy and motherhood compared to women who were not victims of abuse.
The severe consequences of childhood sexual abuse demonstrate the need for early intervention. However, many of these children do not disclose their abuse until adulthood, so few receive treatment until late adolescence or early adulthood. By that time, the symptoms of PTSD, depression, and additional life events have often taken their toll. Many believe that the childhood sexual abuse was their fault; that they deserve to live a life full of suffering.
No child is to blame for child sexual abuse. Adults are supposed to protect children from harm, not harm them. Children are taught to do what adults tell them and believe that adults speak the truth. Even when the children begin to understand that the abuse is wrong, they are often dependent on the abuser and cannot escape. When the abuser is not in the home, they often go to great lengths to ensure the child won’t speak out and will continue to participate despite being fearful, hurt and, confused.
Treatment Options for Childhood Sexual Abuse Related PTSD at The Refuge
At The Refuge, we use only the most empirically supported trauma treatments. We provide you with the support, compassion, and skills needed to begin processing your experiences so that you can begin to heal. We work to restore hope and provide you with skills needed to regain control over your life. We’ll guide you through your treatment with compassion and support, making sure you always have someone to lean on when you need us most. Some of the treatments used at The Refuge include:
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) helps you repair damaged relationships and reconstruct your normal roles. The strategies you will learn will help you to restore your social network and strengthen bonds with loved ones.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you learn to replace negative thoughts related to your abuse experiences especially those related to shame, guilt, or self blame. When you can replace your negative thoughts to see the world in a realistic manner, you will also have gained control over your thoughts and the way they impact your emotions and behaviors.
Dialectic behavior therapy (DBT) incorporates strategies from behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and CBT, helping you learn to balance acceptance of past events with factors you can change in positive ways. We help you discover your inner strengths to help stabilize your emotional experiences.
Intensive family therapy – Family Week – We recognize that family members are extremely important in providing support during your childhood trauma recovery. You’ll have the opportunity to share your struggles and the abuse with your loved ones, repair any broken family bonds, and discuss ways in which your loved ones can support you as you recover from childhood sexual abuse.
As The Refuge is a holistic healing center, we incorporate experiential treatments into your stay with us. Some of the experiential strategies we use include:
- Art therapy
- Creative expression
- Dramatic experiencing
- Ropes courses
- Equine therapy
- Somatic experiencing
Continuing Care – What Comes Next?
We are committed to learning about who you are as a complete and unique person through your stay with us, which allows us to work with you you to determine the next step for your recovery. Many people feel they still need an intensive therapy program, such as a partial hospitalization program (PHP). At The Refuge, we have developed a PHP program to allow you to continue to work towards overcoming your trauma. Our outpatient program provides you the opportunity to make further progress while working to improve your symptoms and quality of life.
Some individuals may feel they’re prepared to continue their healing on an outpatient basis. If this is the case, we will help identify a traditional outpatient therapist and schedule your first appointment before you leave us.