While we are learning more and more about the latent challenges faced by adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, it is still difficult to understand and give reasons why it occurs. Unfortunately, because we cannot explain with certainty why child sexual abuse occurs, we can describe various erroneous beliefs that are held about child sexual abuse, e.g., the children targeted, racial/socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures, etc.
Over the years, both our perceptions and understanding of child sexual abuse has changed. In the past, some people believed that children were targeted if they came from a broken home, were of a particular race, followed a particular faith, or had uncaring mothers. Some people also believed it was the “provocative” nature of the child that led or contributed to their abuse. Fortunately, we have come a long way as a society from that faulty belief system, that somehow the child or the mother was responsible. As our understanding of child sexual abuse increases, so has our understanding of our duty to report suspicions of abuse, appropriate ascribing of blame (perpetrator not child), and the importance of creating a voice that reaches those that need it the most, the survivor.
Child sexual abuse is often a private act with the perpetrator isolating the child and convincing him/her that they cannot tell anyone what is happening to them, other people “wouldn’t understand”, or their family may be harmed if the child told. Understandably, there are usually no witnesses to the abuse inflicted upon the child. The perpetrator will make all sorts of statements to the child to stop them from telling anyone about the abuse. The abuser will also use threats to keep the child silent. Typically, the types of threats used are dependent upon the age of the child. For example. Young children are usually told what is happening to them is their “own special secret”, older children are told they are bad and if the tell they would be taken away from the family, teenager are told they are be taught about sex.
Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse often internalize the “conditioning” they experienced at the hands of their abuser, e.g., they are bad, dirty, no one will understand them, no one will believe them, it is their fault, etc. Some survivors may even hold the secret of their abuse throughout their life, never telling anyone, suffering in silence. It is not uncommon for some survivors to associate their abuse with “something that happened in the past”, “something that is no longer worth talking about”, and “talking about it now wouldn’t make a difference to anyone”. There are many issues with this line of thinking, for example, speaking out about the abuse removes the hold and the power the abuser holds over you, you can inspire others to tell and live their truth, you can also alert others to the dangers of holding secrets that can negatively impact them well into adulthood.
Childhood sexual abuse not only robs children of loving, caring years, but continues stealing valuable experiences and healthy coping mechanisms from adult survivors. Adult survivors of sexual abuse who publicly speak out create change in the silence that surrounds this crime. The act of speaking out can end the false sense of shame that survivors often carry. Seeing a survivor cast off the shame may inspire others that have experienced abuse to do the same. Sexual abuse and its wounds flourish in an atmosphere of secrecy, silence and myth. Speaking out brings it into the light. The courage of survivors prepared to speak has agitated for legal change, brought about improvements in therapeutic approaches, and undermines in a very powerful way social myths about sexual assault that promote acceptance of this crime.
Benefits of Speaking Out Against Sexual Abuse Can Include:
• Increased ability and opportunity to heal from the abuse
• Opportunity to help others
• Removes the abuser’s power
• Creates opportunities for therapists and other mental health professionals to better understand the latent effects of abuse and coordinate appropriate treatment
• Provides a voice for those that have yet to find or develop their own
• Helps survivors better understand and communicate their feelings to others
• Relieve the feeling of isolation
• Removing the stigma of shame and guilt
The person responsible for the abuse is the person who committed the abuse. However, it is unlikely that saying this will suddenly make the survivor feel less ashamed or less responsible in some way for the abuse. Sexual abuse is a truly democratic issue. It affects children and adults across ethnic, socioeconomic, educational, religious, and regional lines.