Sexual Abuse / Trauma

National Domestic Violence / Abuse Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE | 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 TDD All calls to the hotline are confidential, and callers may remain anonymous if they wish.

"The incest victim is usually the healthiest in the family: the one closest to the truth and the first to seek help." --Susan Forward, Ph.D., 1989. Innocence and Betrayal Overcoming the Legacy of Sexual Abuse.


Anonymous Discussions: Express yourself -- devoted to topics such as these.


A common symptom of sexual abuse is post-traumatic stress.

Be sure to visit this discussion area for anonymous accounts of sexual abuse, domestic violence, incest, drug abuse, etc.

Perpetrators

  1. Can a child molester be rehabilitated?
  2. Do abuser’s feel remorse?
  3. How can I identify if someone might be an abuser? What are some identifying features?
  4. Why do people sexually abuse children?

Many people have a limited understanding of the causes, prevention, and impacts of childhood sexual abuse, probably because it's still a taboo subject in our culture; as are other sexual and abuse related topics.

Statistics

  1. What are the perpetrator statistics on fathers, brothers, neighbors, etc.?
  2. How does alcohol play a role?
  3. What are the statistics on boys vs girls who are abused?
  4. For how many years does abuse usually continue?
  5. Is there more sexual abuse in the US than in other countries?

Trauma Recovery

  1. What is traumatic dissociation or amnesia of childhood sexual abuse? Is it real?
  2. If I have memories of sexual abuse, how do I know if they are accurate?
  3. Does childhood sexual abuse affect adult relationships?
  4. Can sexual abuse make individuals gay/homosexual?
  5. Why do so many people who were sexually abused wait so long to report it?
  6. Shouldn’t adults who were abused as children try to let it go?
  7. If I, or someone I know was sexually abused, what can I do to help recover?
  8. What is it like to tell someone you’ve been abused and not be believed?
  9. Is it okay to give support to both the abuser and the abused in a family?

Legal Issues

  1. Are there changes in laws that protect children?
  2. In what ways are children sexually abused? Is it always physical?
  3. Does pornography promote sexual abuse?
  4. Is there more sexual abuse than there used to be?
  5. I am an adult who was abused as a child, should I tell someone? Should I go to counseling?
  6. How can I tell if a child is being abused? Should I investigate? What should I be doing? Call the police? Question the child?
  7. What is the age of sexual consent? Is it sexual abuse if a brother and sister about the same age, or a few years apart engage in sexual activity? If there is a line, where is it drawn between experimenting and abuse?
  8. Are there national or federal laws that pertain to childhood sexual abuse?

Can a child molester be rehabilitated?

It depends on who the child molester is. The majority of molested children are perpetrated by family members, close relatives or people who have close proximity to them. Most of these people are called incest perpetrators because they’re family members to the children. What’s been found for these individuals who get reported (incest perpetrators), is that they are likely to have more than one victim, and usually only abuse within their family.

As a result, it’s hard to measure whether they would abuse again, at later times, with other children. They’re not considered what is clinically called a pedophile. Pedophiles are a different class of child molesters, and are considered sexual addicts. In spite of their best interests, a pedophile will abuse children as long as there is opportunity. There are pedophiles who must drive different routes home just to avoid the temptation of children they might otherwise encounter.

The type of child molester most resistant to treatment is called a fixed pedophile. These people primarily abuse children of their own gender, and across family lines (which is not the majority of sex abusers). We don’t have a good record of stopping fixed pedophile from abusing again. In general, this is not the case with incest perpetrators. Most people who abuse will probably be able to stop if they are held accountable, punished appropriately, and also given the proper kind of therapeutic treatment.

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Do abuser’s feel remorse?

Many abusers feel guilty. However, for pedophile, the guilt means very little; it doesn’t prevent them from abusing again, they are obsessed with children, and act in addictive ways. If we ask about empathy rather than guilt, we find that empathy (understanding the child’s pain/point of view) is one of the key pieces in helping an abuser to stop abusing.

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How can I identify if someone might be an abuser? What are some identifying features?

It’s not a good idea to try and identify child molesters. Molesters consist of so many different kinds of people, with different kinds of personalities, and both genders. Sometimes people who seem totally normal or typical on the surface turn out to be an abuser. Once in a while an abuser is the classic loner, who doesn’t seem to socialize well, and so on, but that’s really not most abusers. Abusers are mostly people who otherwise seem quite normal. So rather than trying to identify abusers, what’s more important is identifying if there is some kind of abuse going on.

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Why do people sexually abuse children?

There are many different kinds of abusers, and it’s not clear why people molest children. What’s been found in recent research is an overwhelming majority of people guilty of child molesting, were molested themselves. We used to think this statistic was much smaller, but with more detailed research, we’ve discovered this statistic to be very high. Statistics involving men in New Jersey prisons convicted of sexual abuse, found that over 95% of the men, were in fact abused themselves.

And we don’t know, but it could be that the 5% of non-abused men in that case don’t remember being abused as children; they may have amnesia or a traumatic dissociation.. Some abuse may be the attempt to relive one’s own abuse, with power roles reversed. Another reason may be these people have learned that abuse is a way of feeling in control. Fundamentally, in all cases of abuse, it certainly is about power and control.

Some abusers don’t relate well to people of their own age group. They relate much better to children, and as a result, pick children to abuse. Abusers often project attributes or qualities onto the children they abuse. These attributes are false, and are just in the mind of the abuser. A perpetrator may create false beliefs about a child’s wishes, desires, and likes, or try to bring the child up to their peer level (imagining a sexual attraction or relationship with them).

They may believe the child wants them to do the sexual acts. We often hear ridiculous statements from abusers such as, "he/she was a seductive child"; which is complete nonsense. It’s a complex and still unclear set of issues that drives childhood sexual abuse. However, it is up to adults to control their own behaviors.

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What are the perpetrator statistics on fathers, brothers, neighbors, etc.?

The most commonly reported perpetrators are fathers and stepfathers. Brothers, sisters, mothers, baby-sitters, and uncles, are also among the most common abusers. Who abuses is an important piece in the question, "why do people abuse?" We don’t necessarily know why, but we do know most abusers were abused themselves. With incest perpetration being a family based sexual abuse, it can repeat itself from family member to family member, generation before generation, and those thereafter. But despite this, we know from statistics that overwhelmingly, most children who have been abused, don’t go on to abuse others.

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How does alcohol play a role?

Statistically, it is found that children from alcoholic families are many times more likely to be abused than in other families. One conclusion thought to cause this statistic involves the unresolved boundaries in alcoholic families. Boundaries in an alcoholic family are not as clearly defined and enforced. The roles of parents and children become unclear and intermingled. In addition, children in these families are not protected as well by the adults. While adults are drinking or coping with their own problems, these children don’t have as much guardianship. Therefore, others in close proximity (baby-sitters, relatives, etc.) who are prone to abuse, can identify these children as easy victims.

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What are the statistics on boys vs girls who are abused?

"Ninety percent of sexual abuse victims never tell." --Susan Forward, Ph.D., 1989. Innocence and Betrayal Overcoming the Legacy of Sexual Abuse.

Statistics only come from reporting, so we don’t have accurate, objective numbers. But based on the reports we have, it’s believed that 1 in 3 girls is sexually abused, and a general consensus of 1 in 5 to 1 in 7 boys is sexually abused. ALERT: these are some explicit stories written by men who are speaking out about their own childhood sexual abuse.

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For how many years does abuse usually continue?

In cases involving pedophile (people sexually excited by children), once the child starts developing secondary characteristics of adulthood, the abuse is likely to stop. However, in homes with other issues at work (parents repeating their own abuse, poor boundaries, etc.), the abuse can go on and on for many years, well into adolescence or even adulthood. There are many cases of fathers sexually abusing daughters into adulthood.

So, abuse can continue for many years, or it could be a single incident. One determining factor in the length of abuse is how available the child is to the perpetrator. An uncle who had the opportunity once to abuse a child, may not get another chance. So we can have one time abuse, abuse that takes place occasionally due to lack of access, or we can have abuse that is ongoing, daily, weekly, monthly, for years and years.

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Is there more sexual abuse in the US than in other countries?

Among the countries gathering these statistics, it’s been shown to be pretty consistent throughout the world, although there seems to be less reporting in other countries. In all countries, there is far more sexual abuse than is reported. Through rape crisis centers, therapy, and group therapy, we find much higher incidents of abuse in all countries than what’s reported to the authorities. But the US is no more or less likely to have sex abuse than any other nation, at least from what we can tell.

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What is traumatic dissociation or amnesia? Are these real?

Yes. having a traumatic dissociation or childhood sexual amnesia is very common and real. Read about Recovered Memories of Sexual Abuse. The human mind responds in various ways to trauma . People who’ve studied trauma and traumatic events have known for a long time that there are several kinds of amnesia that affect us. When something is overwhelming emotionally, some people block it out, separating the event from the rest of their memories. For instance, it’s very common for people in car accidents to forget parts of what happened. The psychological conclusion says that the stress of the moment was so traumatic that the person cannot relive the emotional content.

Let’s apply this to a 6 year old being abused by an intimate family member, say, Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe has been very nice to the child up until then. He then steps across sexual boundaries, or even becomes physically hurtful to the child. The child may have a hard time holding onto that experience and still function as a young child; playing and enjoying life. Children often protect themselves by blocking/repressing or dissociating these kinds of memories. Or, as a result of this experience, a child may develop depression or other kinds of symptoms like isolating themselves, or acting out with anger. These symptoms can continue into adulthood. Unless the memory is confronted, the person may continue to act out, not knowing the cause for their depression or anxiety. For some people, something eventually triggers a memory of the event. It may happen spontaneously, or may surface if they get therapy. Once a memory surfaces, it can be dealt with and processed.

There is an organization called The False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Read item number 8 a couple paragraphs down on this page http://www.jimhopper.com/memory/, to get Jim Hopper, Ph.D’s opinion on this Foundation.. They have no scientific basis for their arguments, and have been promoted by bringing in people with professional credentials to advocate for the notion of false memory syndrome. Clinically, there is no such category; there is no false memory syndrome.

There are times when people’s memories are suggestive. During hypnosis, and a few other situations, a person could be manipulated into having what might be called a false memory. However, this is very rare incident. More often, a false memory may be due to sloppy therapy, or when a client is searching hard for answers to their extreme feelings.

There are incidents when someone is falsely accused of sexual abuse. A person might have a memory that someone sexually abused them at about 5 years old. And they don’t know why, but for some reason they associate it with Aunt Lilly. As the person tries to draw conclusions, they may conclude that Aunt Lilly sexually abused them. It may however, have nothing to do with her. Aunt Lilly may have taken the child to the park that day, or maybe the abuse happened at her house. These kinds of mix-ups can happen, particularly with memories coming before ages of 6 and 7 years old.

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If I have memories of sexual abuse, how do I know if they are accurate?

Most of our memories from early childhood are not going to be what we call accurate. They are not going to meet the criteria of knowing exact times, places, words, etc. Most memories from early childhood, especially before ages 5 and 6, will usually be just a "snapshot" process. See what Jim Hopper, Ph.D. has to say about the accuracy of recovered memories (read items 1-8 a couple paragraphs down the page).

We must always keep in mind that sexual abuse can cause human traumatization, and it can be one of the hardest things to allow ourselves to accept. Sexual abuse isn’t something we want to have; very few of us are going to think up sexual abuse stories that didn’t really happen.

But will early sexual abuse survivors be able to accurately identify who the perpetrator was? That’s an individual thing, and not easy to prove in a court of law. The main issue is one’s personal healing (moving through whatever your hurtful emotions may be: shame, embarrassment, guilt, rage, betrayal...) and not whether someone is in a position to hold a perpetrator accountable. If you think you remember being abused, then chances are you were.

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Does childhood sexual abuse affect adult relationships?

Like any traumatic experience, if we don’t move through the experience or hurtful emotions, it will affect all of our relationships. Since sexuality is a very healthy and normal part of life, someone who has been sexually abused can also have a disruption in their sexuality. Sexual abuse can cause someone to disregard their own humanity and perform sexual acts in a much more promiscuous way than they would otherwise. Or it can cause someone to dissociate during sexuality, which means they really don’t have the chance to enjoy their sexual experience. And for some people, there can be flashbacks when they attempt to be sexual, and therefore cannot really have a successful sexual relationship.

Some people may have lots of flashbacks (mental visual or verbal videos that take people back to the past, bringing the hurt into the present). Flashbacks involving the abuse can disrupt all parts of adult life, including one’s work. Triggers for flashbacks could be as simple as a phrase spoken, a body movement, a smell, or a look from someone.

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Can sexual abuse make individuals gay/homosexual?

Can sexual abuse make individuals straight/heterosexual? These are impossible questions to answer with the amount of information we have. So far, biologists have deduced that sexual orientation is probably a combination of genetics, and environmental factors before age 5. What are the genes and environmental factors that affect sexual orientation? These are still unknown.

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Why do so many people who were sexually abused wait so long to report it?

Most people never report sexual abuse, so, in comparison, a late report is earlier than never. But usually, people wait to report because of the shame or guilty feelings sexual abuse causes, and there are people who believe it was their fault; that they caused the abuse for whatever reason. Also, amnesia or traumatic dissociation prevents people from reporting because they don’t remember until many years later.

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Shouldn’t adults who were abused as children try to let it go?

Three stages of healing:

  1. outrage
  2. grief
  3. release
--Susan Forward, PhD. 1989. Innocence and Betrayal Overcoming the Legacy of Sexual Abuse

For a person to heal from trauma, there is a process called "letting it go". However, people confuse letting go with burying (pushing it down, not dealing with it, not addressing feelings that are so difficult to talk about, like shame, guilt, rage, terror). We get these feelings from the trauma. Burying these feelings never works. It ends up affecting all parts of our life if not addressed. So, no, the person should not "let it go" in the sense of burying it. It will be healing for the person to eventually let it go after they have addressed it adequately and processed the hurt.

ALERT: This link contains explicit subject matter and graphic accounts and images of various types of abuse. These things could be triggers for some survivors of abuse and neglect. Please proceed if you accept this risk.

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If I, or someone I know was sexually abused, what can I do to help recover?

Rape crisis centers can help you make a confidential, informed decision about your individual situation. Use this US Nationwide hotline RAINN National Rape Crisis Hotline: 800-656-4673. If you suspect or know a child is being abused, sexually or physically, you should call Childhelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD; 24 Hours a Day.Or call the National Domestic Violence/Abuse Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE / 1-800-799-7233 / 1-800-787-3224 TDD.

If we’re talking about the rape of an adult, it’s most important to ask them whether or not they want the police involved. Sometimes a person who’ will not want the police, but it’s important to allow them to decide; police asks lots of questions, which may cause a lot of discomfort. There are plenty of books now to teach us how we can support a rape survivor. These books essentially include things like emotional support, acceptance, patience, and help on relating to the trauma. If you have been sexually abused, the first step to make is connecting with people you care about, trust, and who you believe will give support; along with making contact with the rape crisis center.

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What is it like to tell someone you’ve been abused and not be believed?

It’s dis-empowering and is likely to be emotionally damaging to the abused person. It is enraging and emotionally overwhelming if someone you love and trust doesn’t believe or doesn’t care (brushing it under the rug so to speak).

Often times children get this reaction when they tell their mother about her husband or boyfriend abusing them. This can happen because mothers have conflicting allegiances; they love their children and their mate. It’s hard to believe someone they love could commit such a monstrous act, particularly on their own child. It can become very traumatic and chaotic to families dealing with this issue.

Generally, it’s advisable to measure what your relationship is like with someone before you tell them; you can get hurt if they don’t believe you, or don’t take the time to give necessary support (brushing it under the rug).

Often times, long term trauma results not from the abuse itself, but from lack of support, belief, or attention to the pain. This can intensify or prolong trauma from abuse.

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Is it okay to give support to both the abuser and the abused in a family?

"No family with incest is open, caring, and communicative." --Susan Forward, Ph.D., 1989. Innocence and Betrayal Overcoming the Legacy of Sexual Abuse.

Not unless the support given to abusers is helping them break through their denial, and involves getting help to address and take responsibility for the abuse. This kind of support is what’s needed for the abuser, the abused, and those that may be abused in the future if the problem is not worked on.

However, it’s most important to remember, that the person who was abused needs to be the priority; they need to be asked about their needs.

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Are there changes in laws that protect children?

The Megan Law, states that people classified as sexual predators (definition varies from state to state) have to report with local authorities. Generally, a sexual predator is someone who has abused more than one person, or has abused the same person over a period of time. In some states, the authorities have the right to notify the neighborhood where the predator lives. It’s still not known if these laws make much difference in the amount of sexual abuse; since most sex abuse is taking place in the home by friends or relatives.

Another law currently being tested keeps repeat offenders locked up longer. This is done by transferring sex offenders to mental institutions AFTER their prison sentence has been served. There’s debate whether this practice is legal under our bill of rights; they’ve served their sentence, haven’t committed another crime, and they’re not considered insane. Using mental institutions to soothe our fears, is like the Soviet Union’s method to use mental institutions to punish and control people. So while some laws have changed, this is one in question.

New laws are allowing convictions of sexual perpetrators despite lapsed time in reporting. But still, under most state laws, there are few years between when the abuse took place and when the person can be convicted of a crime. States may expand the time frame in years to come. The same thing is true of civil redress; usually suing those who abused them when they were children. The number of lapsed years allowed may also be increased regarding civil redress.

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In what ways are children sexually abused? Is it always physical?

In terms of what kinds of abuse can bring about legal actions, the abuse must be either "violent" physical or sexual abuse. Violent abuse consists of actions like restraint, or locking in closets. Sexual abuse consists of touching, or exposing oneself to a child.

But there’s another "hidden" kind of sexual abuse is called emotional incest or covert sexual abuse. These are actions like adults repeatedly leaving the bathroom door open while bathing or going to the bathroom, walking in on children while they are bathing or going to the bathroom, or verbalizing details of sexuality: describing their own or grilling their children.

Some would argue that any sexual action by adults in front of children is sexual abuse. But for the most part, covert actions are not legally actionable. However, covert sexual abuse can create lots of confusion for children. It can make sexuality complicated for children to understand in terms of what is and isn’t appropriate, and can create boundary issues for them as they grow up.

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Does pornography promote sexual abuse?

There are lots of studies about the effects of pornography. Does viewing child pornography create a greater desire in perpetrators to abuse children? Yes, it seems to. There have been studies that seem to demonstrate arousal of perpetrators from viewing child pornography, particularly pedophile. We can’t say absolutely if pornography makes them act on their arousal, but it seems to be part of the constellation about what causes them to abuse.

It’s also found that viewing violent or sexual materials can affect attitudes involving adult rape. There are studies demonstrating males who view continuous violent pornographic movies, will have much more tolerance for the rape of a women. Whether this means it makes a person rape (date rape or stranger rape), is not absolute. And there’s a correlation with viewing violent pornography and repeat rapists, but we don’t know there is a causation between the two.

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Is there more sexual abuse than there used to be?

This is impossible to answer, since sexual abuse is still a taboo topic in our society. Numbers reported to police are much different than actual numbers of abuse cases. We do know there didn’t use to be places where people could seek help for sex abuse. And not long ago, we didn’t used to talk about sexual abuse at all. There are far more reports of sexual abuse in the last 20 years than ever before, which doesn’t mean there is more abuse, but more reporting. That’s really the only factual statement we can make about it.

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I am an adult who was abused as a child, should I tell someone? Should I go to counseling?

The question is really, how is the past abuse affecting you now? It is probably in your best interest to talk it through with someone you trust or a counselor. Usually we look at abuse as a kind of trauma. Almost all of us who’ve been traumatized need some kind of processing. So it’s certainly in your best interest to talk out what’s going on inside as a result of the abuse. How you do this, either formally or informally is up to you.

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How can I tell if a child is being abused? Should I investigate? What should I be doing? Call the police? Question the child?

There are a number of symptoms a child might demonstrate if being abused, varying with age range and individuals. Some clues for child abuse may be: unusually sad, less communicative than usual, changed eating or sleeping patterns, consistent nightmares, or fear of a person or place they didn’t have before. These are clues.

It’s best not to ask too many questions, especially with a small child, but it’s okay to lovingly ask a child over the age of 8, "Has anyone hurt you? Has anyone touched you making you feel uncomfortable? Has anyone threatened you about anything?" Questions like this, while reminding the child you love and support them. If it’s a small child you suspect being abused, it’s important to call Childhelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD; 24 Hours a Day. This way a skilled person can ask questions, to prevent the danger of implanting things or confusing the child.

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What is the age of sexual consent? Is it sexual abuse if a brother and sister about the same age, or a few years apart engage in sexual activity? If there is a line, where is it drawn between experimenting and abuse?

There isn’t a consensual sexual age for children. But we have the idea once children are adolescents, that it’s okay to have sexual consent or consent between adolescents. The general rule for statutory rape is a teenager having seemingly agreed upon sex with an adult more than 2 years older.

In terms of what’s abuse and not abuse for children? Brothers and sisters will sometimes experiment, exploring sexuality. In alcoholic families where boundaries and roles aren’t clear it’s much more likely to see brother’s and sisters who have experimented. But there is a line labeling abusive sexual behavior for young children and adolescents.

Generally, if the children are only a year apart, and neither one has been manipulated or forced by threat into experimenting, this would not be considered sex abuse. This doesn’t mean there can’t be emotional damage; it might be a good idea for someone to get some counseling if this happened. Generally, laws regarding these "finer" lines between two young children depend on the state you’re in. In some states sexual abuse is labeled as 2 years between the children. But in many states, it is four years.

A good rule, is if the children are a year or more apart, then it’s it is probably sex abuse. It’s important to address it immediately, usually by contacting a sexual abuse hotline: Childhelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD; 24 Hours a Day. Always though, no matter what the age difference, sexual abuse is certainly clear if somebody is using some kind of power to force the other person to engage in sexual behavior.

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Are there national or federal laws that pertain to childhood sexual abuse?

In the US, laws for most felony’s are written in State Law rather than Federal. Things come up if you cross state lines when committing a felony, then the federal law takes some precedence. But generally, the laws people break are State Laws in which they reside.

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