Sexual Abuse Trauma Treatment

Sexual abuse, commonly called molestation, is any unwanted and non-consensual sexual interaction. More specifically, sexual abuse of a child is defined as any sexual act with a child that is performed by an adult or older child. Forms of child sexual abuse can include a number of different acts such as:

  • Sexual touching of any body part (clothed or unclothed)
  • Encouraging a child to engage in a sexual act
  • Penetrative sex, including oral sex
  • Intentionally engaging in a sexual act in front of a child
  • Fondling
  • Encouraging a child to engage in prostitution
  • Either showing a child pornography or using a child to create pornography

All forms of child sexual abuse, including touching and non-touching offenses, are harmful and extremely devastating to the overall well-being of a child. In many cases, the child knows their abuser, possibly being a family friend, a neighbor, or even a babysitter. Additionally, child sexual abuse can take place in many different settings including at home, school, or other community areas where children may be present. No child is prepared to deal with the emotional or physical aftermath of sexual abuse.

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According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), an estimated 9.3% of confirmed child abuse and neglected cases involved sexual abuse. While child sexual abuse has been reported up to 80,000 times a year, the number of unreported cases is much greater, which is mainly due to the fact that children are afraid to report their abuser. It is estimated that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child abuse.

Signs and Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse

The signs and symptoms of childhood sexual abuse will vary based upon the severity of the abuse, length of abuse, type of abuse, and other personal factors. Some signs and symptoms that a parent can watch for in children that may indicate that sexual abuse is occurring may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Fear of a certain person or certain places
  • Unreasonable fear of a doctor’s exam
  • Drawings that show sexual acts
  • Bed wetting or losing control of bowels
  • Sudden awareness of genitals, sexual acts, and words
  • Trying to get other children to engage in sexual acts
  • Regression to earlier behaviors
  • Excessive crying
  • Failure to thrive
  • Aggression
  • Substance abuse
  • Running away from home
  • Suicidal behaviors
  • Poor performance at school

Physical symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Problems eating
  • Sleep disturbances, including nightmares
  • Bowel problems
  • Pain, discoloration, bleeding, or discharge from genitals, anus, or mouth
  • Consistent pain when going to the bathroom

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feelings of shame and guilt
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of worthlessness

Effects of Child Sexual Abuse

The effects that develop as a result of childhood sexual abuse can have a lasting impact on the child that can continue long into adulthood. Essentially, sexual abuse robs a child of his or her childhood and causes him or her to have a lack of trust and experience feelings of guilt. Some of the long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse may include:

  • Development of anti-social behavior
  • Depression
  • Identity confusion
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Conduct problems
  • Engagement of self-destructive behaviors
  • Problems with intimate relationships
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Becoming an abuser themselves
  • PTSD
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
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.

Treatment for Sexual Abuse

Children who have been sexually abused need immediate professional evaluation and treatment so that they will be able to begin the process of recovering from this traumatic experience. Proper treatment programs that are specifically designed to treat children who have been the victim of sexual abuse can help them regain their self-esteem and learn to cope with the feelings of guilt that have developed as a result of the abuse. The sooner that a child gets treatment, the better the chance of reducing the risk that the child will develop serious problems as an adult.

Children who have been sexually abused can often find comfort in a residential treatment program that specializes in treating those who are victims of sexual abuse. The main priority for sexual abuse treatment is to provide children with a safe and supportive atmosphere in order to help lessen the negative effects that have resulted from the emotional and psychological trauma they have experienced. Most residential treatment programs will offer an array of services that will help victims and their family members deal with the discovery of the abuse and to help prevent the development of severe long-term consequences. While treatment cannot take away the horrific experiences a child abuse victim has been through, it can help them heal and go on to live a normal life.

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