Common Experiences for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

sexual abuse sexually abused

Common Experiences for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Assault

  • Setting Limits/Boundaries
    • Because someone you trusted and depended on invaded your personal boundaries when you were young, you may have trouble understanding that you have the right to control what happens to you.
  • Memories/Flashbacks
    • Like many survivors, you may experience flashbacks.
  • Anger
    • This is often the most difficult emotion for an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse to get in touch with.
    • As a child your anger was powerless and had little to no effect on the actions of your abuser. For this reason you may not feel confident that you anger will be useful or helpful.
    • Anger may seem to be directed at innocent people in your life today or you may have a generalized since of anger about life.
    • Anger with God is very common and not something God can’t handle.
  • Grieving/Mourning
    • Being abused as a child means the loss of many things- childhood experiences, trust, innocence, normal relationship with family members (especially if the abuser was a family member).
    • You must be allowed to name those losses, grieve them, and then bury them.
  • Guilt, Shame, and Blame
    • You may carry a lot of guilt because you may have experienced pleasure or because you did not try to stop the abuse.
    • There may have been silence surrounding the abuse that led to feelings of shame.
    • It is important for you to understand that it was the adult who abused his/her position of authority and should be held accountable, not you.
  • Trust
    • Learning to trust again may be very difficult for you.
    • You may find that you go from one extreme to the other, not trusting at all to trusting too much.
    • You may find it difficult to forgive or understand the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.
  • Coping Skills
    • You have undoubtedly developed skills in order to cope with the trauma.
    • Some of these skills are healthy (possibly separating yourself from family members, seeking out counseling, etc.)
    • Some are not (drinking or drug abuse, promiscuous sexual activity, eating disorders etc.)
  • Self-esteem/Isolation
    • Low self-esteem is a result of all of the negative messages you received and internalized from your abusers.
    • Because entering into an intimate relationship involves trust, respect, love, and the ability to share, you may flee from intimacy or hold on too tightly for fear of losing the relationship.
  • Sexuality
    • You likely have to deal with the fact that your first initiation into sex came as a result of sexual abuse.
    • You may experience the return of body memories while engaging in a sexual activity with another person. Such memories may interfere in your ability to engage in sexual relationships, which may leave you feeling frightened, frustrated, or ashamed.

What should I do if I am sexually assaulted or raped?

sexual assault

  1. Find a safe environment – anywhere away from the attacker. Ask a trusted friend to stay with you for moral support.
  2. Know that what happened was not your fault and that now you should do what is best for you.
  3. Report the attack to police by calling 911. If you want more information, a counselor on the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE can help you understand the process.
  4. To preserve evidence of the attack – don’t bathe or brush your teeth.
  5. Write down all the details you can recall about the attack & the attacker.
  6. Get medical attention. Even with no physical injuries, it is important to determine the risks of STDs and pregnancy.
  7. To preserve forensic evidence, ask the hospital to conduct a rape kit exam.
  8. If you suspect you may have been drugged, ask that a urine sample be collected. The sample will need to be analyzed later on by a forensic lab.
  9. If you know that you will never report, there are some things you should still consider:
  10. Get medical attention. Even with no physical injuries, it is important to determine the risks of STDs and pregnancy.
  11. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, operated by RAINN, for free, confidential counseling, 24 hours a day: 1-800-656-HOPE.
  12. Recognize that healing from rape takes time. Give yourself the time you need.
  13. Know that it’s never too late to call. Even if the attack happened years ago, the National Sexual Assault Hotline or the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline can still help. Many victims do not realize they need help until months or years later.

How can I help a loved one who has been raped or sexually assaulted?

There are many ways that you can help a friend or family member who has been raped or sexually assaulted:

  • Pray. Ask God for help in this difficult time, and ask Him to give you wisdom about what steps to take.
  • Listen. Be there. Don’t be judgmental.
  • Help to empower your loved one. Rape and sexual assault are crimes that take away an individual’s power, it is important not to compound this experience by putting pressure on your loved one to do things that he or she is not ready to do yet.
  • If you are dealing with an issue involving your child, create a safe place by talking directly to them.
  • If you are the non-abusing parent in a case of incest, it is important to support your child and help them through this situation without blaming them. This is also true if you are not a parent but still an observer of incest.
  • If you’re loved one is considering suicide, follow-up with them on a regular basis.
  • Encourage your loved one to report the rape or sexual assault to law enforcement (call 911 in most areas). If your loved one has questions about the criminal justice process, talking with someone on the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1.800.656.HOPE, can help.
  • Let your loved one know that professional help is available through the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1.800.656.HOPE, the Victim Center Springfield Missouri 417.864.7233, and The Relationship Center 855.593.4357 (855.5WE.HELP) for ongoing recovery.
  • If your loved one is willing to seek medical attention or report the assault, offer to accompany him or her wherever s/he needs to go (hospital, police station, campus security, etc.)
  • Encourage him or her to contact help, but realize that only your loved one can make the decision to get help.

Was I Raped?

was i rapedSexual wounds are often the deepest of all. They violate something inside us that is meant to be respected and delighted in. If you’re a survivor of rape, incest, or another form of sexual abuse, The Relationship Center is here to help you find healing.

 Was I Raped?

The exact definition of “rape”, “sexual assault”, “sexual abuse”, and similar terms differs by state. The wording can get confusing, since states often use different words to mean the same thing or use the same words to describe different things. So, for a precise legal definition, you need to check the law in your state. But here are some general guidelines based on the definitions used by the U.S. Justice Department. Please note that these definitions are a bit graphic, which is inevitable when describing crimes this violent.

  • Rape is forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration. Penetration may be by a body part or an object.
  • Sexual assault is unwanted sexual contact that stops short of rape or attempted rape. This includes sexual touching and fondling.

There are three main considerations in judging whether or not a sexual act is consensual or legally considered a rape or sexual assault.

  1. Were the participants old enough to consent?
  2. Do the people have the capacity to consent?
  3. Did both participants agree to take part?

It’s important to remember that even if a sexual encounter is not legally considered a rape or sexual assault, it can still be very traumatic and have negative emotional consequences.

Common Rape Questions

  • I didn’t resist physically, does that mean it isn’t rape? People respond to an assault in different ways. Just because you didn’t resist physically doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape, in fact, many victims make the good judgment that physical resistance would cause the attacker to become more violent. Lack of consent can be express (saying no) or it can be implied from the circumstances (for example, if you were under the statutory age of consent, or if you had a mental defect, or if you were afraid to object because the perpetrator threatened you with serious physical injury).
  • My body responded physically, does that mean it isn’t rape or that I wanted it? It’s not uncommon at all for a rape victim’s body to respond sexually to unwanted sexual contact. Our bodies are designed to respond to sexual stimuli. This can even be protective in that by your body responding normally to the sexual contact it may have prevented more serious physical damage. Just because your body responded sexually to the contact does not mean that it wasn’t rape or that you wanted it to happen.
  • I used to date or am married to the person who assaulted me, does that mean it isn’t rape?
    Rape can occur when the offender and the victim have a pre-existing relationship (sometimes called date rape, or “acquaintance rape”), or even when the offender is the victim’s spouse. It does not matter whether the other person is an ex-boyfriend or a complete stranger, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve had sex in the past. If it is nonconsensual this time, it is rape.
  • I don’t remember the assault, does that mean it isn’t rape?
    Just because you don’t remember being assaulted doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen and that it wasn’t rape. Memory loss can result from the ingestion of GHB and other “rape drugs”, and from excessive alcohol consumption. That said, without clear memories or physical evidence, it may not be possible to pursue prosecution (talk to your local crisis center or local police for guidance).
  • I was asleep or unconscious when it happened, does that mean it isn’t rape?
    Rape can happen when the victim was unconscious or asleep. If you were asleep or unconscious, then you didn’t give consent. And if you didn’t give consent, then it is rape.
  • I was drunk or he was drunk, does that mean it isn’t rape?
    Alcohol and drugs are not an excuse, or an alibi. Regardless of whether you were drunk or sober, if the sex is nonconsensual, it is rape.
  • I thought “no” but didn’t say it. Is it still rape?
    Yes and it depends on the circumstances. Yes from the perspective of your experience of the event, maybe from a legal perspective. If you didn’t say no because you were legitimately scared for your life or safety, then it may be rape. Sometimes it isn’t safe to resist, physically or verbally, for example, when someone has a knife or gun to your head, or threatens you or your family if you say anything. Even if the event is not legally considered a rape, it can still be extremely damaging and hurtful.