Childhood Sexual Abuse
In the US, 44% of incidents of sexual assault happen to people under the age of 18. Some people are immediately aware of what has happened to them, but for others, an abuser may have had such an oppressive influence on their perceptions as they grew up, that even years later they still cannot identify what happened to them as abuse.
When you get to Cambridge, you are exposed to a wealth of new situations and ideas. Away from family and the home environment, some people may find that they finally have the time and space to properly come to terms with things that may have been ignored throughout adolescence and younger years.
It does not matter when, where or why you start coming to terms with what happened to you; it is never too late to start healing.
There can be a number of short and long term effects. As with any incident of sexual abuse, no two people’s reactions are the same, and everyone’s reaction is valid.
In many cases, the perpetrator holds a position of trust or responsibility. As such, children will often readily accept the perpetrator’s entreaties not to tell anyone, and their assertions that what is happening is normal, or even the fault of the child. Many adult survivors will consequently struggle with feelings of guilt, shame or blame, perhaps because they feel they could have stopped the abuse, or because they felt physical pleasure. Arousal is the body’s natural response to stimulation, it is uncontrollable and nothing to be ashamed of.
In all cases, the person that hurt you is accountable, not you.
Some adult survivors may struggle with perpetual low self-esteem for the rest of their lives. Negative messages from abusers throughout one’s formative years can have a very powerful effect on one’s mental state. What your abuser made you believe does not necessarily constitute the truth. Above all, you are worthy, you are valuable and you deserve the chance to heal.
Some survivors may struggle with intimacy and relationships a long time after the abuse has stopped. It is possible that your first experiences with sex came as a result of sexual abuse. Again, struggling as a result of this is nothing to be ashamed of. Try to discuss how you are feeling with your partner. If you can help them to understand, they can help you in the healing process and help you start to feel more comfortable.
It is not uncommon for survivors to experience flashbacks and painful memories while engaging in sexual activity, even if it is consensual and entirely on their own terms. This may be a form of PTSD: check out our page here for more information on how to deal with this. Like with everything, dialogue is very important; discuss how you feel with your partner and they should do their best to make you feel comfortable.
Many people continue to suffer many years after the abuse has stopped. This is normal. Everyone’s life runs on its own timeline; there is no set time limit for dealing with abuse. It is never too late or too early to start healing. Accepting that what happened to you was wrong is the first step in the process, and there are many organisations and services available to help you in the journey.