Sexual Abuse Trauma

Tragically, child sexual abuse is an all too common occurrence in society today. The number of children who are subjected to these heinous acts continues to increase, and the repercussions on their lives can be devastating and long-lasting.

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act defines child abuse and neglect as the following:

“Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation [of a child]; or as an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm [to a child].”

Sexual abuse can refer to an unwanted sexual act that is imposed upon an individual, regardless of whether it is a child, an adolescent, or an adult. When sexual abuse is imposed upon a child, the act typically is initiated by an adult, yet can be done by an older child as well. There are a number of different acts that are considered forms of sexual abuse, which can include both touching and non-touching offenses. Examples of such acts are listed in the following:

  • Engaging in penetrative sexual intercourse with a child (this includes oral sex)
  • Touching a child, whether she is clothed or unclothed, in a sexual manner or in an attempt to gain sexual gratification
  • Fondling a child
  • Encouraging a child to participate in sexual acts (this can include masturbation)
  • Using a child to create pornography
  • Forcing a child to engage in prostitution

One common misperception about child sexual abuse is the fact that this form of abuse is not limited to actual physical contact. In truth, there are other acts that do not involve actually touching the child that are still considered forms of sexual abuse. These acts can include the following:

  • Forcing a child to look at pornography
  • Exposing oneself to a child
  • Forcing a child to witness a sexual act

Regardless of the type of sexual abuse that occurs, or the length of time during which that abuse occurs, the end result can cause a child to be severely traumatized. And, devastatingly, suffering from this type of trauma can have lasting, detrimental impacts on a child’s life, following them well into adulthood.

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Signs and Symptoms of Sexual Abuse Trauma

When a child falls victim to sexual abuse, there are certain signs that she may display that could indicate that she has suffered from this type of trauma. Some of the symptoms can be blatant, while others may be much less obvious. Examples of such signs and symptoms may include, but are not limited to, the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Demonstrating a strong fear of being alone
  • Demonstrating fear of a particular person or place
  • Displaying an exaggerated startle response
  • Flinching at sudden movements
  • No longer socializing with friends
  • Decline is academic or occupational performance
  • Isolating oneself from family members
  • Excessive bouts of crying
  • Acting out aggressively
  • Wearing baggy clothes
  • Shying away from any type of physical affection
  • Bathing frequently
  • Engaging in ritualistic eating behaviors
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Attempting suicide

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Significant and frequent fluctuations in mood
  • Sense of detachment from oneself and one’s surroundings
  • Feelings of guilt and shame
  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Emotional numbness
  • Low self-esteem
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Sexual Abuse Trauma

When children suffer from the trauma of sexual abuse, the effects that result can be seemingly endless. Subjecting children to these acts can rob them of their childhood and force them into ongoing feelings of shame and guilt. These children often struggle to develop a sense of trust in others, impairing their ability to engage in healthy, meaningful relationships. Additional effects of sexual abuse trauma can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Experiencing a decline in one’s overall mental health or the worsening of preexisting mental health symptoms
  • Destroyed sense of self-worth
  • Identity confusion
  • Conduct and behavior problems
  • Development of antisocial behaviors and tendencies
  • Suffering from chronic panic attacks
  • Reflecting the behavior that has been imposed on them and become abusers themselves
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicidal behaviors

Furthermore, when individuals are subjected to sexual abuse, they frequently seek out a means of alleviating the devastating emotional effects that the abuse elicits. All too often, this alleviation is found through the use of drugs and/or alcohol, as they can act as a numbing agents, allowing individuals to have a temporary reprieve from the distress that plagues them. Drug and/or alcohol addiction can develop rapidly, leading to additional problems and detriments in the lives of these individuals.

Another way in which many individuals attempt to cope with the trauma they are suffering from is to seek out things over which they can have control. When a person is subjected to sexual abuse, they often feel as though any sense of power that they once felt has been stripped away. As a result, they may seek out specific activities to engage in that they can have control over. One example of this can be in attempting to rigidly control their eating behaviors. By restricting the type of food that one consumes, limiting the amount of food that one consumes, eating greater amounts of food and then purging, or engaging in ritualistic eating patterns, individuals can begin to feel as though they have gained control over some facet of their lives. As a result, these individuals may being to suffer from eating disorders, which can include the following:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge-eating disorder

Why Consider Treatment for Sexual Abuse Trauma

In addition to the monumental strife that suffering from sexual abuse can elicit, the effects that can arise can lead to even further devastation on the welfare of these individuals. For this reason, it is imperative that those who have been victims of sexual abuse receive treatment to help them process through their experiences and learn how to recover so that they do not have to continue to suffer.

For some individuals, residential treatment is necessary to begin the journey of overcoming the trauma that has resulted from being sexually abused. This treatment can provide individuals with the interventions necessary for overcoming any additional struggles that they may be facing, including eating disorders, self-injury, suicidal thoughts and substance use disorders. By entering a residential treatment setting, individuals are, first and foremost, sheltered from any danger that they may be facing at the hands of their current or previous abusers. Additionally, by entering into residential treatment, individuals are able to step away from the stressors and triggers that they face on a daily basis. In doing so, they are better able to focus on themselves and engage in the strenuous work that is necessary for a life of full recovery.

At Timberline Knolls, we recognize the immense devastation that results from having suffered sexual abuse. We also understand the incredible bravery it takes to seek treatment. For these reasons and more, we are pleased to offer comprehensive residential programming for women and girls who are in need of compassionate care as they work through the trauma that they have experienced. In a safe, serene, and female- specific setting, those who are entrusted into our care can learn the skills necessary for overcoming the trauma, developing positive coping skills, recovering from the compulsion to engage in self-destructive behaviors, and rediscovering the joy that is their birthright as a human being. We create individualized treatment plans for each woman or girl so that she can receive the customized interventions that will help address all of her unique needs and help her achieve all of her treatment goals.

At Timberline Knolls, we can help you make a real life difference starting today.

get confidential help now: (844) 335-1809 Email Us