Would you know the signs to look for if you suspected that someone – a child - in your life was being sexually abused?
It has been our observation that perpetrators of child sexual abuse are often frequent users of pornography. And unfortunately, the victims too often suffer in silence. It is our desire to speak truth and help raise awareness about this issue, to empower others to offer help, and so we put the above question out recently on our social media sites. Through those connections, a courageous college student, a sexual abuse survivor, answered us by writing the following article, and shares bits and pieces of her personal journey.
Please note that this is for raising awareness and informational purposes only. We strongly urge you to speak with a professional directly if you have any questions or concerns about sexual abuse (resources available here). And so with that, we will let guest blogger Magali, share for herself:
When writing about the signs that would help create awareness on the topic of sexual abuse, it was hard to make a distinction between emotional and physical symptoms because they are so linked together. This article is written from a female survivor’s point of view. Sexual abuse is a wound that affects a girl wholly: psychologically, emotionally, physically and spiritually. It also affects the way we see sexuality and men. The damage done runs deep and much time is needed to recover. We are all different and every one of us react to things in different ways. The following are common signs one can take notice of in a girl who is a victim of sexual abuse.
When something, such as a sexual abuse, happens to anyone, it affects the body first: feelings of being defiled and dirty - the hardest thing is that your body has been attacked – and you cannot get rid of this. You cannot put this in a room somewhere and not think about it. What happened lives in your flesh. The pain is often unbearable…and these signs and symptoms are simply ways to cope and/or to deal with that pain.
A lot of people resort to dissociation, separating the body and the mind in order not to think about what happened in our bodies or feel the pain. For me, I hated what the person did to me and my body; I hated my body and so I started dissociating.There was my physical body, which I didn't want to think about, and there was me – a thinking, feeling being. Dissociation is also a way to protect oneself of all the emotions too painful to feel. To make it simple, there was my body, my mind and my emotions - all separate. I used to think of me as just a mind, I didn't want to think of me as a woman, with a body. I didn't want to think of me attracting boys or men.
GUILT SHAME AND DENIAL
After the abuse, a victim also feels a great deal of guilt and shame. We cannot believe it happened to us; we're ashamed, we feel it happened because of something we did. The instinct is to hide it, but to keep going, pretending it never happened. That’s dangerous and leads to a lot of damage. You can keep it all bottled up inside for only so long and when it explodes to the surface, it comes back in full force, as if it had happened yesterday.
Eating disorders often stem from sexual abuse because of dissociation and the discomfort we feel towards our own bodies. Eating disorders are only the symptoms revealing that a girl or young woman has a twisted perception of what her body is. She doesn’t want to see herself the way she really is...the way she was designed to be. Eating disorders are linked with self loathing, guilt, shame - it's a very complex disease. (visit 'Tell Me What You See as a resource and for more information)
Some victims feel so much guilt and shame that they have to take it out on themselves. Self harming is not only cutting it can also be scratching, burning. Advice: the girl may not always cut on her arms, she might cut somewhere so it will not be noticed.
SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND ADDICTION
Substance abuse can also be a way to deal with the pain and often leads to a drug addiction.
POST TRAUMATIC STRESS
Post traumatic stress is hard to describe precisely for each person, but often nightmares, panic attacks, unwanted memories and flashbacks haunt us as victims. Post traumatic stress is not rational - it's basically how our emotions choose to express themselves. I remember having panic attacks in a class managed by a man, he had done nothing wrong or inappropriate, but just the idea of sitting down in his class was unbearable. It's not a rational thing; yet the emotions are so strong and just as hard to navigate.
THE NEED TO FEEL SAFE
A victim of abuse will feel the need for protection, a need to protect herself. She will build up walls, physically and emotionally. Physically: 1. She might change the way she dresses, to prevent boys or men to be attracted to her. 2. She might not want to sit close to a man or a boy. Being on a bus or a subway is still a nightmare for me. Emotionally: 1. She will distance herself and not let anyone get close to her. I was always in control, choosing what I would say, what I would do in front of people. I would lie through my teeth swearing up and down that I was okay when asked; please don't take it personally when we lie…we lie to ourselves first and foremost. 2. If the girl has friends who are boys, she might have a difficult time being around them.
UNEASINESS TALKING ABOUT SEXUALITY
Obviously, they will be uncomfortable with the topic of sexuality and the topic of dating, relationship with men/women. Our minds associate sexuality with the abuse even if it couldn't be farther from the truth and anything that isn't safe is out of the question.
ATTACHMENT TO CHILD BEHAVIOUR
After abuse, I didn't want to think of myself as a woman so I was semi-consciously reverting back to acting like a child, sleeping with a teddy bear...
This looks like having trouble getting out of bed in the mornings, not wanting to make plans with anyone, wanting to stay in all the time, an overall sadness, not smiling, not laughing, shutting yourself off.
MY ADVICE IF YOU THINK YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO WAS OR IS BEING ABUSED:
- Please be patient. Considering the amount of trauma she's been through, she will not open up easily.
- Tell her you love her and that it's going to be okay. Assure her that you are going to be there for her no matter what!
- If she says she was abused, believe her; you don't need to know every single detail!
- Help her find a safe place, a counselor she can talk to
- Allow her to recover in her own time - don't rush it and don’t force her to talk
THE RECOVERY PROCESS
Let those trained to deal with sexual trauma and abuse do their work. I understand it can be hard for families or friends to be kept out of the process, but it's necessary. Be happy and encouraged that she found someone safe to talk to, even if it's not you.
ON THE TOPIC OF FORGIVENESS
Be really careful with the topic of forgiveness: don't push it or rush it! Just hearing the word made my insides scream! I remember hearing about it at church, and at the time it took all I had in me not to explode and run out of there.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- encourage her
- tell her you are praying for her
- support her when she talks to you
- you can also help her find an outlet for letting all the emotions out; if she's a creative person: painting, drawing, writing, singing, or if she's more active: find a sport
It is our hope, along with Magali’s, that by publishing this information we all will have a new awareness of those around us who might be suffering in silence, and be willing to offer help and hope.
♥ Thank you, Magali, for sharing so openly and honestly - and so courageously! ♥