Childhood sexual abuse is a traumatic experience that can have devastating consequences throughout childhood and deep into adult life. The importance of appropriate support during the time of disclosure and beyond cannot be underestimated.
The effect of trauma
Traumatic life experiences (such as child abuse) can have a significant impact on people's future, increasing the risk of poorer physical and mental health and poorer social, educational and criminal justice outcomes.
Although not everyone who has been sexually abused will experience mental and emotional difficulties into adulthood, it has been proven that there is a strong, consistent link between sexual abuse and mental health issues such as anxiety disorder, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders and suicide attempts.
An evidence review conducted by University of Bedfordshire for Victim Support found that individuals who had experienced sexual abuse as a child were more likely to experience these problems later in life, irrespective of whether they are male or female, or how old they were when the abuse occurred.
There is an even higher risk of experiencing depression, eating disorders, and PTSD amongst those who had been raped as children.
Childhood sexual abuse is often paired with psychological abuse, neglect and breach of trust. This sometimes fosters an inability to form and maintain loving and trusting relationships. Often a child is not able to comprehend the abuse that is happening to them, causing confusion and sometimes self-blame due to manipulation by the perpetrator.
All of these factors lead to the victim not disclosing the abuse and there is a tendency they will carry the trauma with them into adulthood. Surveys conducted by the Office of National Statistics in 2015/2016 revealed that around 3 in 4 victims that suffered assault by rape or penetration as a child had not told anyone about the abuse at the time it happened.
The most common reasons given for not disclosing the abuse were embarrassment or humiliation, or thinking that they would not be believed.
Why it is important to seek help
Given the deep-rooted and complex effects of childhood trauma it is important that those who have suffered abuse as a child seek help and support that is right for them.
Different people go through recovery in different ways and there is no ‘one size fits all’ model. However, seeking help can start the process of recovery, healing, and some closure.
Where you can seek help from
When you feel ready to speak about your experience there are a number of different avenues you can follow to find the support you need.
Confide in friends/family
Some victims may feel they are not ready to disclose their abuse to a stranger.
In this case talking through what happened with someone you trust may offer you the support and encouragement you need to take the next step towards recovery. It is a simple step but it may provide you with a new perspective on how to move forward.
Talk to your GP
Contact specialist support providers
Several specialist organisations exist to provide a listening ear and practical support to those that have experienced abuse and sexual assaults.
Here are some resources and services which may be helpful:
ISVAs are specially trained to provide emotional and practical support to survivors of child abuse, rape and sexual assault and can also support you through the criminal justice system if you choose to report the crime.
You can get in touch with an ISVA via Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC) which the police can arrange for you to attend if you report your abuse to the police.
Alternatively you can refer yourself if you do not feel ready to report the matter or contact one of the organisations listed below who can help you. If you decide to refer yourself to a SARC you can find your nearest one by entering your postcode on the NHS choices website or by calling 111.
Survivors Trust is an umbrella organisation for at least 130 agencies around the country, so you can locate your local support agency through the members list.
Survivors Trust also have a national helpline service that you can access for seeking emotional support, information & advice.
NAPAC has trained staff to provide advice over the phone on the options available to you. There are also forums to share your story anonymously if you prefer not to talk over the phone.
NAPAC also supports family members, friends and professionals who are helping someone who was abused, advising them on who else can help.
Victim Support is an independent charity which provides emotional support to those who have been the victim of a crime.
You do not need to report the crime to the police to receive this support and it does not matter when the crime took place. Alongside emotional support Victim Support also provide practical help to help resolve problems that may arise such as filling out forms, installing burglar alarms or getting rehoused.
Rape Crisis currently provides services in 56 locations across England and Wales offering support, advocacy and counselling for women.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA)
The IICSA has launched a consultation on the impact of child sexual abuse and the access to and use of support services which will close on 12 September 2017.
This demonstrates an attempt by the government to address issues connected to the provision of support to these victims and to understand the impact that it has on molested children as adults.
If you are a survivor of child abuse and wish to take part in the consultation, please visit the following link.
Support whilst you are pursuing a compensation claim
It is very important that if you have decided to pursue a civil action arising from your childhood sexual abuse you seek appropriate support, either from a family member/ close friend or by way of counselling or more formal therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Transactional Analysis and psychotherapy are types of therapy you may be offered.
If you have made contact with a solicitor, your solicitor may be able to signpost you to an appropriate support service or you may wish to conduct your own research on this.
Compensation for child abuse, for various reasons, can take longer than you might anticipate. Whilst your claim is ongoing, it may be difficult to get the closure you hope a civil claim will bring. Support from a close family or friend, or from a suitably qualified professional can be invaluable at this time.