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Sexual abuse can happen to anyone at anytime, anywhere. There are many forms of sexual abuse; from molestation, rape, and incest, to seemingly innocent childhood sex play, teenage experimentation, date rape and even marital rape.  The existence of sexual abuse is a painful reality that surrounds us.  Most sexual abuse victims conceal what has happened to them.  They feel embarrassed, confused, ashamed and misunderstood.  Many times, sexual abuse or trauma does not get addressed or treated properly.  Statistics show that one third of all people are either directly or indirectly affected by sexual abuse, and that one in three girls, and one in six boys, have been sexually abused during childhood. All sexual abuse is considered sexual trauma, even when the victim does not feel overtly traumatized.

Below are some myths and misconceptions that surround sexual abuse and rape:

  • No doesn't really mean no.
  • Nice girls don't get raped.
  • She asked for it.
  • Children make up stories about rape.
  • The victim is at fault for allowing sexual abuse to continue.
  • Most assaults are perpetrated by strangers.
  • The best way to recover from the assault is to pretend it never happened.
  • Attractive women are provocative and/or promiscuous.
  • All men can defend themselves.
  • Male rape is only carried out by homosexual men or only occurs in prisons.

Each of these misconceptions enables the blame to be shifted from the abuser to the victim, leading to a lack of support and perpetual victimization of the survivor.

In Staci Haines’s book, Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma, Haines discusses how the human psyche is oriented towards two major driving forces: survival and connection.  Survival is the drive to stay alive, while connection is about giving and receiving love, being accepted, and contributing to others.  Being sexually abused puts one’s basic, psyche elements of survival and connection at odds with one another resulting in mental, and sometimes even physical, trauma.

Professor K. Elan Jung, MD and author of Sexual Trauma writes, “There is no other event that makes the human mind as confused, painful, and destructive as sexual abuse and sexual trauma.  Sexual abuse affects the very core of one’s being, home life and interpersonal relationships by undermining trust, intimacy, and self-worth.”

Initially, a sexual abuse victim may:

  • Become confused, dazed and shocked.
  • Tear up their underwear.
  • Continually wash their privates.
  • Retreat to their rooms to isolate themselves from family and friends.
  • Feel guilty, as if they did something to cause the sexual assault.
  • Experience intrusive or disturbing sexual thoughts and images.
  • Turn to alcohol, drugs and sex in an effort to relieve the isolation.

If a survivor is in a relationship, he or she might do one or more of the following:

  • Avoid, fear or have a lack of interest in sex
  • Approach sex as a chore or an obligation
  • Experience negative feelings such as anger, disgust or guilt with touch
  • Have difficulty becoming aroused
  • Feel emotionally distant or not present during sex
  • Engage in inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Experience vaginal pain or have difficulty reaching orgasm
  • Have difficulty with erections and/or ejaculation

Sexual abuse may make a survivor question:

  • How they feel about being a man or a woman
  • How they feel about their body, bodily functions or sex organs
  • How they think about sex
  • How they express themselves sexually
  • How they experience physical intimacy or pleasure

Any of these symptoms and/or feelings can show up at any point in a survivor’s life―even years down the road. Typically, the symptoms and feelings will not go away on their own. To overcome sexual abuse, a survivor needs to actively work at healing him or herself. By doing so, survivors can move forward and overcome what was done to them. 

Sexual healing is a process that takes time, effort, and a great deal of self-reflection.  Working through sexual trauma can feel like being on an emotional roller coaster.  A survivor would benefit from working with a therapist who specializes in sexual abuse treatment, as well as joining a therapy or support group. Therapies such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and Matrix Re-imprinting can also be effective in cases of sexual abuse.

Survivors of sexual abuse who are experiencing self-destructive or extreme behaviors should seek qualified professional help as soon as possible.  Any of the following issues should be immediately addressed with the help of a mental health professional:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Suicidal thinking
  • Violent behavior
  • Self-harm
  • Criminal activity
  • Sexual addictions
  • Psychological problems such as depression and multiple personalities
  • Participation in an abusive relationship

There is much hope for sexually abused survivors. They can be heard and understood, and with help, they can feel safe and secure.  There is never a need for one to suffer alone. Though it may be a tough journey working through a dark past, those who take that journey will be rewarded with a better future for themselves, their family and all those who care deeply for them.

 

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