Assistance, resources, and information for victims and survivors of sexual abuse

Because there are so many different types of sexual abuse, and because individuals can interpret and react to the abuse in different ways, it is very difficult to accurately predict how being sexually abused will effect an individual. Through our experience, however, we have seen that being sexually abused as a child can affect:

If the child is sexually abused by a family member, or someone very close to the family, it can distort the aforementioned areas much more severely. For males who have been sexually abused by other males, the effects can be somewhat different. In our experience, some of these effects include:

There is little doubt that sexual abuse can affect one's perception of sex and sexual behaviors. A number of studies have demonstrated that the majority of female adult entertainment industry workers have been sexually abused in some form as a child or adolescent. Many of the females who have been in this profession, and who we have worked with, have related that their own sexual abuse affected their attitudes and perceptions of sex. For example, one woman, who was an exotic dancer, stated that she had no problem taking off her clothes in front of strange men and women. She stated that she saw the job strictly as a means to an end, which was money. After exploring her history and development with her, we realized that the man who sexually abused her used various grooming technqiues to make her comply with the abuse and to keep it a secret. Some of the grooming techniques included giving her monetary rewards (paying her), gifts, and telling her in hundreds of different ways that she was "special". After enduring these grooming techniques for six years, they became enmeshed in her personality. When she became an adult, she did not perceive sex as an intimate, emotional act, but rather a "job" or "chore" in order for her to obtain praise, money, love, and so forth.

An adolescent or adult who is sexually assaulted (raped), can experience a completely different and unique set of responses and perceptions. A rapist does not utilize grooming techniques as illustrated in the aforementioned example, but rather uses brut force, coercion, and threats to make the victim comply and to keep the assault secret. Some of the effects that we have seen include:

Some of the survivors of sexual abuse I have worked with, both male and female, have conceptualized a model of the effects or aftermath of being sexually abused, as well as the recovery process. The first phase is the victimization phase, and includes the immediate effects of being sexually abused, high vulnerabilities, taking a victim-stance, anger and hatred, and intense emotional pain. The second phase is the surviving phase, where many of the short term and long term symptoms have been worked through, the victim-stance is no longer inherent in the persons personality, some forgiveness may take place, and the person is usually living in the present instead of the past. The final phase, called thriving, is acceptance of what occured, some level of forgiveness, the person is living in the present and geared for the future, most of the symtoms have been worked through, a general feeling of contentness and happiness emerges, and levels of shame and guilt are within normal ranges.

If you have been sexually abused in some form as a child, adolescent, or adult, and you believe the abuse has created multiple problems for you, the first step is to reach out and initiate counseling services. Choose a therapist who specializes exclusively in the treatment of sexual abuse. You should be able to contact the therapist prior to the first appointment to ask any questions you may have. The first appointment may be somewhat uncomfortable, and you may be quite nervous. The therapist should help to make you feel more comfortable and lessen your anxiety. The first session is typically for signing the initial paperwork, to gain information, and to get to know one another. I always tell my clients at the end of the first session to go home and really think whether he or she felt comfortable with me and my style, and to contact me in the days following the appointment to schedule another appointment (if he or she felt comfortable). This is very important because if you do not feel comfortable, at the end of the first session, with the therapist or style of therapy, this will effect the trust between you and the therapist. If you do not trust your therapist, nothing therapeutically will be achieved, so time, energy, and money will be wasted. There is no problem with you telling the therapist that you do not think it will work out, and ask for another referral.

Once you find a therapist who you trust and feel comfortable with, the hardest part is usually disclosing some of the events from the past. Because many victims of child sexual abuse have a great fear of being rejected, telling a therapist specific stories can be very scary and intimidating. However, try your hardest to tell your therapist what is really bothering you, or what has been bothering you from your past. You may have to work through many "family secrets" with your therapist, which will also be quite challenging. Remember, therapy is a process. Do not expect immediate change to occur. Do not expect that the therapist can or will solve all of your problems. The therapist is a facilitator who offers guidance, support, and helps you to recognize that you have all the tools inside of you to change. The therapist may have to confront you about behaviors and ideas, but it should be done in a very nurturing way. One of the hardest things any person can do is to take a deep, objective look at him/herself. It is very difficult sometimes to look at our own vulnerabilities and problematic behaviors, to accept them, and to commit to change. For example, a thirty-year-old woman who had been married and divorced four times put all of the blame on her ex-husbands, stating, "they were no good", "they were only interested in themselves", and "it was all about control for them". She had a very difficult time accepting and understanding how she became involved with them, that she was attracted to certain dysfunctional qualities in these men, and so forth.

Finally, therapy is also about "risk-taking"--another challenging aspect of the therapeutic process, and one that trusting the therapist is of paramount importance. If you do not trust your therapist, the chance that you will take recommended risks, such as dating, meeting new people, and changing old behaviors, will be very low. If you trust your therapist, it will be very important for you to begin taking mild risks and changing your behaviors. This should be done at your pace (but at a pace that is not really comfortable for you, otherwise it would not really be viewed as a risk).

Respectfully Yours

Matthew D. Rosenberg, MSW, CSW (2002)

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More information on sexual abuse
Sexual Abuse of Males
Pandora's Box: The Secrecy of Child Sexual Abuse
Child Sexual Abuse
Central Agencies Sexual Abuse Treatment Programs (Canada)
Stop Sexual Abuse, Inc.
Male Survivors of Sexual,k Physical, and Emotional Abuse
Butterfly's--A Magazine for Incest and Sexual Abuse Survivors