In a perfect world, every child would feel confident in their personal boundaries and body, having never experienced any violation. However, this is not a perfect world. Harming a child is unthinkable to the vast majority of people in this world, and yet, child sexual abuse happens. You may have a child in your life who was sexually abused. You may have survived sexual abuse in your childhood. If so, you may have seen or experienced the incredible harm that sexual abuse can bring into an individual’s life. It may be important for you to hear that incredible healing can also take place in an individual’s life. Many survivors work with a therapist as they heal from child sexual abuse.
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Child sexual abuse may be something that happens to an individual, but it is not who the individual is. Often, survivors are strong and hopeful and gracious people. They may also struggle to come to terms with what happened to them. Healing from child sexual abuse is often a long process, but no one has to go through the process by themselves. Thriveworks Counseling in Raleigh offers therapy for both children and adults who have survived child sexual abuse. We have walked with many people on their healing journey.
Child Sexual Abuse: What Is It?
Both boys and girls can experience child sexual abuse, and it can occur in every religion, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. It can be important to understand what it is and what it is not. Most children are sexually abused by someone they know, not a stranger. Perpetrators of child sexual abuse can be well-liked and well-known members of the child’s community. They may be a friend’s parent or a family member. Often, child abuse is not violent in a traditional sense of the word. The coercion that is used is more subtle (although no less harmful). For example, people who sexually abuse children may lead them to believe that they are playing a game.
Defining exactly what child sexual abuse is can be tricky. All 50 states have a legal definition because child sexual abuse is also a crime. Speaking in general terms, children cannot consent so all sexual interactions between adults and children are abusive. Speaking in more specific terms, it may be helpful to categorize child sexual abuse in three ways:
- Non-contact sexual abuse: An adult can perpetrate sexual abuse against a child without ever touching them. Examples of non-contact sexual abuse include exposing oneself, showing them pornography, or having them witness a sexual act.
- Child pornography videos and images: If an adult has viewed, distributed, or made child pornography, they have sexually abused the children in the videos and images.
- Contact sexual abuse: Sexual assault and rape are forms of contact child sexual abuse. Examples of sexual assault include touching a child’s private parts or when a perpetrator has a child touch them. Examples of rape include sexual intercourse or any form of penetration of the child’s vagina or anus.
Long-Term Harm and Adult Survivors
A range of behaviors are included under the term “child sexual abuse.” Each survivor’s experiences are unique, and so is their reaction. The long-term harm of child sexual abuse will also be different for each individual. There is no mold for responding to abuse, but adult survivors often report dealing with on-going issues like…
- Difficult emotions like shame, blame, and guilt. Many survivors feel as if the abuse was somehow their fault. They may feel as if they could have done more to prevent it. The truth is, the child is never responsible for sexual abuse. Ever. The perpetrator is the only responsible party.
- Low self-esteem. Emotional abuse can be an element of sexual abuse. When an adult sexually abuses a child, they may tell the child that they are bad or deserve the abuse. These untrue statements are abusive in themselves and can continue to haunt an individual long after the abuse had ended.
- Relational and trust challenges. In particular, if an individual’s perpetrator was known and trusted, then survivors may have difficulty in future relationships. Child sexual abuse is a deep relational betrayal. Knowing when to trust people is a challenge when someone whom a survivor considered trustworthy instead brought harm into their lives.
Seeking Out a Therapist
If you experienced child sexual abuse, consider seeking out mental health care. If a child in your life has experienced child sexual abuse, consider seeking out mental health care. Here are some suggestions for finding a counselor:
- Asking about past experience: working with children, working with child sexual abuse survivors, et cetera.
- Inquire about the techniques they use. Trauma-informed Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TICBT) and Trauma-informed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (TIDBT) are two examples of methods that mental health professionals may utilize, but there are more.
- Trust your instincts: if you do not feel comfortable with your therapist, move on.
Scheduling an appointment for Child Sexual Abuse at Thriveworks in Raleigh
Thriveworks offers counseling for child sexual abuse survivors in Raleigh, NC. We work with children and adults. When you call to schedule an appointment, you may be meeting with your counselor the following day. We accept many different forms of insurance. We also offer weekend and evening sessions. Let’s work on understanding and healing together.