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Adult Survivors

Definitions:

  • Child Sexual Abuse: When a child is used for the sexual gratification of an older adolescent or adult. It also involves the abuse of power that an adult has over a child.
  • Adult Survivor: An individual who was sexually abused as a child.

This abuse may have had long-term effects on the survivor’s life.

In most instances, the victim of the abuse never discussed the abuse with others while it was occurring.

This individual may be learning now, as an adult, to deal with the effects of the abuse.

The term “survivor” is used, instead of the term “victim,” because the individual has survived the childhood sexual abuse. This term is used to recognize the strengths of the individual who has survived.

Common Long-Term Effects

  • Feelings of low self-esteem or self-hatred
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Isolation from others
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Confusion between sex and affection
  • Frequent sleep disturbances and nightmares – abuse often occurred in their own bedrooms and beds.
  • Difficulty trusting – they were betrayed by the very people in their lives who cared for them and who insisted they loved them even while abusing them.
  • Re-victimization – the process whereby women who were sexually abused as children frequently find themselves in abusive, dangerous situations or relationships as adults. Diane E.H. Russell found in her study in 1986, that there is a strong relationship between incestuous abuse and later experiences of sexual assault and partner abuse.
  • Self-mutilation – a way of relieving unbearable anxiety triggered by memories or can also be a way of dealing with and confronting strong, painful emotions, “using new pain to hide old pain.”
  • Eating Disorders – anorexia nervosa, bulimia. They feel out of control over their bodies, and this is a way of gaining back control.
  • Increase of drug and alcohol abuse – way of coping with painful feelings. A way to numb their pain.
  • Flashbacks – the survivor during a “flashback” re-experiences the sexual abuse as if it were occurring at that moment. It is usually accompanied by visual images, or flashes of images, of the abuse. This is one of the ways of remembering the abuse. Flashbacks are often triggered by an event, action, or even a smell that is reminiscent of the sexual abuse or the abuser.
  • Dissociation- refers to the ability to escape stressful or harmful situations by creating another place for the mind to go. The intense pain of sexual abuse creates a situation where the victim may try to dissociate from her body as a way of coping. It can be described a type of daydreaming, a need to find a place for the mind (and ultimately one’s self) to hide while being sexually abused.
  • Multiple Personality Disorder – 98% of persons with multiple personality disorder experienced sexual abuse in their childhood. This disorder is described as the process of dividing one’s self up into many different parts to handle the many painful experiences of the past.