CSA FAQ by Arpan Part 3 : Impact and Healing
- Impact and Healing
Q8. What is the impact of CSA on children/adults?
The consequences of Child Sexual Abuse are diverse and numerous. Being sexually abused, impacts the life-world of children at the physiological, psychological, and social levels and on sexual behavior patterns.
Physical impact may include pregnancy, tears to vaginal or anal area, sexually transmitted diseases, bleeding or unusual smells from genitals due to infections, repeated urinary infection, pain during bowel movement, involuntary gagging and psychosomatic illness including gastro-intestinal problems and frequent headaches.
Psychological impact includes unusual or unexplained fear of people or places, nightmares, eating and sleeping disturbances, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, clinging behavior, indifference, frequent daydreaming and dissociation, lack of trust in self and others, regressive behaviors such as thumb sucking, soiling and bedwetting. The most profound impact might lead to include suicide ideation and psychosis (sexual abuse will not cause psychosis, but can trigger it in those who are already prone to the mental disease).
Social impact can include sudden withdrawal, overly pleasing behaviour, increased hostility, aggression and drastic change in academic performance.
Sexual abuse in childhood can cause drastic/visible change in sexual conduct and mannerisms. Some of these may include over dressing, under dressing, sexual anxiety, and repetitive sexual behavior such as excessive masturbation, continuous sexual play or use of sexually abusive language. It is also possible that the trauma of Child Sexual Abuse may create anxiety or confusion around the survivor’s sexual identity.
These observed effects of childhood sexual abuse can intrude a person’s life in his/her adolescence and also as an adult if it is not healed and supported. It is difficult to separate the short-term impact from the long-term impact as the former may often be the commencement of a long-term problem. The impact, especially the long term impact depends on multiple factors- relationship of the abuser, nature of sexual abuse (how often, where, how many abusers), the age and sex of the victim, the support system around the victim, and the mental state of the victim at the time of abuse.
Some of the long term impacts can be:
a) The experience of betrayal of a child over the loss of a trusted figure can manifest itself in isolation and an aversion to intimate relationships and interpersonal dynamics. It can also lead to ambiguous sense of boundaries making them vulnerable to future abuse and re-victimization.
b) The experience of stigmatization can lead to low self-esteem, guilt, shame, and a consequent tendency to isolate oneself.
c) The experience of powerlessness can manifest in depression, withdrawal or in antisocial behavior (drugs, alcohol) and delinquency including demonstrating sexually offending behaviours and re-enacting their own abuse.
d) The experiences of sexualization at an early age can lead to sexually promiscuous behavior or it may lead to aversion to sex because of flashbacks to the molestation experience, difficulty with arousal and orgasm as well as negative connotations toward their own self and sexuality.
With proper support from the family and professional help, the impact of Child Sexual Abuse can be dealt with and an individual can overcome the negative impact of it. As a final note, when children who experience sexual abuse are believed and supported by their guardians/trusted adults/loved ones, they could recover very quickly. Indeed, some children and adult survivors, especially those with a strong emotional support system before the abuse, might not show any impact of CSA. Finally, it is essential to remember that while it is important to be aware of the impacts of abuse, it is also important to not assume a connection between a person’s behavior/behavioral changes and their experiences of CSA.
Q9. How are survivors treated to help overcome the impact of abuse?
The most important thing that victims need is support, especially from caregivers. The support system should
a) believe the victim’s perspective,
b) not blame the child/youth,
c) allow the victim to vent feelings,
d) support him/her throughout the healing process.
In some cases, the victim can recover on her or his own, especially, if they know that what happened was not their fault and are aware of how they can protect themselves from being abused again. In others, victims might need professional help i.e. counseling. Sometimes, victims might even need psychiatric care, such as medication for sleeping or depression. Children and adults with familial and professional support and resilience can eventually resume to a regular life.
Q10. Do you think that the abused child can ever go back to his/her regular life?
Sexual abuse is one of many terrible things that can happen to children. The problem with sexual abuse is that it is part of the taboo on sex, so children can’t talk about it and can’t seek help. With support and guidance an abused child can grow from being a victim to a survivor to a thriver, learning from everything in one’s life. Many of the child’s problems are based on how society perceives the child and how the child should now be treated or labeled.