Supporting Survivors of Sexual Abuse

Because children find it so difficult to report abuse, and abuse causes so much harm to its survivors, t is critical to be as supportive of survivors as possible. 

Why Don't Children Report Child Abuse?

In a study of children known to have been abused, 80% denied or were tentative in disclosing their abuse, and 22% who admitted to being abused recanted after disclosure.  There are many reasons why children do not report sexual abuse.

  1. Parents or caregivers are responsible for as much as 80% of all forms of child abuse.  It is impossible to imagine how hard it must be for a child to report their parents when abuse happens.
  2. Children may not have the means to report abuse.  Some may be too young to tell or even know who to tell about their abuse, or they may be unable to explain what happened to them.
  3. Abused children may not know their abuse is wrong, especially if abuse is part of their life.  In an abused child’s mind, abuse may seem normal.
  4. It is not uncommon for a perpetrator to tell a child that abusive acts are ways of expressing love.  Only when they become older do they realize the truth.
  5. Fear of reporting child sexual abuse is so great; it is estimated over 40% of women and over 30% of men never report their abuse because they fear:
    • They will be blamed;
    • No one will listen to them;
    • No one will believe them;
    • Being wrong about what they believe is abuse;
    • The perpetrator will harm them or their family;
    • Being viewed or treated differently or even ostracized by their peers or their family; and
    • Being questioned.

What harms are caused by Sexual Abuse

The United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates that as many as 1,500 children die from child abuse or neglect each year.  That number does not reflect the number of suicides from child sexual abuse.  It is estimated that the suicide rate among boys sexually abused is 1.5 to 14 times higher than the normal population.

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control cites that victims of sexual abuse are at an increased risk of adverse health and long-term behavior problems.

Child abuse, including child sexual abuse, can cause certain parts of the brain to form improperly, leading to physical, mental, and emotional disorders such as sleep disturbances, panic disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Children who suffer from child sexual abuse, like others who suffer from sexual violence, face the chance of suffering from long-term psychological damage.  The harms of sexual abuse include:

  • Depression
  • Suicide
  • Attempted suicide
  • Alienation
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Strained family relationships
  • Divorce
  • High-risk sexual behavior
  • Substance abuse
  • Migraines
  • Gynecological and pregnancy complications
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Supporting Survivors is Critical

Because survivors find it so difficult to report their abuse, and the harm caused to them can be so severe, supporting survivors of sexual abuse is essential for their healing and recovery. 

The following are some of the ways to provide compassionate support to survivors, empowering them on their journey toward healing. 

Validate Their Experience

Listen attentively to survivors without judgment and validate their experiences. Make them feel heard, believed, and supported. This validation helps survivors regain a sense of self-worth and promotes their healing process.

Encourage Professional Help

Suggest professional counseling or therapy to survivors, as trained therapists can provide specialized support. Therapy offers a safe space for survivors to process their trauma, learn coping strategies, and rebuild their lives.

Provide Resources

Share information about support groups, helplines, and community organizations that specialize in assisting survivors of sexual abuse. These resources offer a sense of community, guidance, and additional avenues for support.

Foster a Supportive Network

Encourage survivors to surround themselves with supportive individuals who offer empathy and understanding. Friends, family, or support groups can serve as pillars of strength and provide a sense of belonging.

Empower Through Education

Provide survivors with educational resources that help them understand the complexities of sexual abuse, its effects, and the recovery process. Education empowers survivors by giving them the knowledge to navigate their healing journey.

Advocate for Change

Encourage survivors to use their voices to advocate for systemic change and raise awareness about sexual abuse. Empower them to share their stories if they feel comfortable, as their narratives can inspire others and help break the cycle of silence.

Conclusion

Supporting survivors of sexual abuse requires compassion, empathy, and a commitment to breaking the silence. By offering validation, encouraging professional help, providing resources, fostering a supportive network, empowering through education, and advocating for change, we can play a vital role in the healing and empowerment of survivors.

Creating and Maintaining a Sexual Abuse Risk-Aware Culture: A Free Ten-Step Guide

Developing a sexual abuse risk-aware culture is the single most valuable thing you can do to protect the children and vulnerable adults in your care from sexual abuse.

Our free Ten-Step Guide is a practical introduction to the system that enables any organization to establish and maintain a sexual abuse risk-aware culture. 

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Post Author

Tim Jaggs

I am a Brit who now lives just outside San Francisco.  Though I have given up arguing for “football,” not “soccer,” I am still trying to decide whether football is better to watch than rugby – it’s a very close call – and if it’s OK to admit I enjoy baseball almost as much as cricket.

I have worked with organizations managing sexual abuse risk for over 15 years. 

I created BOKRIM to help people working with children, who often have little risk management experience, to use risk management best practices to protect children from sexual abuse and protect themselves from the consequences of failing to prevent sexual abuse.