Living with the trauma of sexual abuse is complicated–and painful too. You may feel alone, ashamed, or unable to share your feelings with anyone. You may be overwhelmed by feelings of fear, anger or sadness. You may even feel confused or wonder if you are exaggerating your experience. Coping with sexual abuse is not easy but there are ways to heal your trauma while empowering yourself and your narrative.
What is sexual abuse?
Sexual assault refers to unwanted or forced sexual behavior. This includes rape or touch without consent. Sexual abuse can be sexual assault repeated over time. This kind of abuse may be found within family dynamics, marriage, relationships, and communities where victims know their abusers.
Stats on sexual abuse
A 2015 report by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center shows that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have, or will, be raped in their lifetime (91% of victims of sexual assault are women). Additionally, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be abused before the age of 18. It is estimated that 63% of rape is not reported and that only 12% of child abuse is reported. And in 8 out 10 of reported cases, the victim knew the person who assaulted them. Victims of sexual abuse are also prone to mental health issues after their attack(s). About 81% of women and 35% of men report having short-term or long-term effects such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
How the trauma unfolds
Everyone that suffers from sexual abuse has a unique reaction to their circumstances. Some will have severely debilitating and traumatic reactions. Others will experience temporary symptoms. People who experience sexual abuse may develop PTSD, anxiety, social anxiety, severe depression, desire to self-harm, an inability to trust others, fear of intimacy, and a reliance on substances.
When it comes to PTSD, it may manifest in re-experiencing the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks. Others may find ways to avoid feelings, thoughts, and reminders of the traumatic event, even forgetting the abuse ever happened. Another symptom of PTSD caused by sexual abuse is hypervigilance, even when there is no real threat.
How to get help
Often, with sexual abuse comes fear, denial, and shame. Know that you are not alone. There are many others, likely people you are close to, that have also been victims of assault or abuse. Confiding in someone you trust, can help to begin the journey toward healing.
Working with a mental health professional whether through individual therapy, group therapy, or experiential therapy can also be an important part of healing. A trauma focused therapist will be able to guide you in this process. Trauma focused therapy can include many tools such as keeping a journal about feelings, teaching regulation strategies, and may include trauma focused yoga, art therapy, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, or other therapies. Trauma focused therapies will work to alleviate painful symptoms before gently exploring the traumatic event. At Trauma and Beyond ® we work in a stage based model in order not to retraumatize. Healing from trauma includes having better insight into your protective strategies and reactions that currently may be causing distress. Our goal is to help you integrate and move past the trauma, in order to be available to feelings of joy and aliveness that may have been compromised.
For more information call Trauma and Beyond ® at (818) 651-0725.