Childhood sexual abuse is more common than you think,what happens is that it can occur in many different ways, and we don’t detect some of them, because the general idea is that:
Childhood sexual abuse implies an adult raping or penetrating a minor.
I also thought it was “just” that, but after reading Ellen Bass and Laura Davis’s book entitled The Courage to Heal, my understanding about it changed.
With this article, I’d like to give you more information about it, but above all, I’d like to expand your perspective.
What is childhood sexual abuse?
As I already mentioned, childhood sexual abuse isn’t just something that happens between an adult and a child.
It can also happen between two children, even if one is only slightly older than the other.
I read this book before studying psychology, so my understanding of sexual abuse was quite scarce.
I would’ve never imagined that even if it happened between two children where one was slightly older than the other it was considered abuse.
Other forms of childhood sexual abuse
Ellen Bass and Laura Davis also consider the following as abuse:
- Cuddling, kissing or hugging for the adult’s sexual gratification
- If a sibling forces you to perform oral sex
- Being forced to witness sexual acts or porn
- Being forced to listen to long conversations about sexual issues
- Caressing or hurting your genitals while being showered
- Being forced to pose for seductive or erotic pictures
- Being touched, looked at or talked to in a lascivious way
And there’s the important thing:
Any sexual thing that happens to you or happens to a child WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT, can be considered as abuse.
Allow me to ask you something in confidence:
When you were little, did you have to do something “sexual” that was “sold” to you as a game but you did NOT want to do?
If the answer is yes, please read on, because you need to understand what comes next.
The difficulty of a child to say what’s happening
In general, children find it hard to put what’s happening to them into words, what they feel, what bothers them…
So when there’s something they don’t like, maybe the child’s message may sound “vague” to an adult.
- “I don’t want to go play with that child”
- “I don’t like going to my cousin’s house”
And sometimes, they can’t even express it with words.
They may show fear towards doing certain things, but that can be interpreted by parents as one of the many negatives that children may give when having to do something.
To the parents, guardians or educators of young children, I want to say that, if at any time a child shows a continued refusal to do something, investigate why they don’t want to do it or why they don’t want to go to where a particular person is.
You may discover something related to childhood sexual abuse.
And I’m not saying this to alarm you, I only want you to have an open attitude, when listening to your child’s reasons.
The child’s guilt
Another important thing that happens in these situations is that the child who receives the abuse feels very guilty.
And guilt emerges for two different reasons:
- Inability to express themselves or ask for help
The most normal thing is that the boy or girl can’t express in words the reasons why they don’t want to play with a certain person or go to a certain place.
Women who have recognized childhood sexual abuse feel a lot of guilt for believing that “they” allowed it.
And if that’s your case, let me tell you something:
You were a GIRL!
You didn’t know any better.
You said what you could and if that wasn’t enough for the adult to figure it out and act, it wasn’t your fault.
Really, believe me, it wasn’t.
As a child, you don’t have the ability to realize or know how to explain what happened.
- Having pleasurable sensations
Anybody responds to a caress, even if it isn’t desired.
Remember that the largest sexual organ is the skin.
So if you stimulate a sexual body part on a boy or girl they may feel pleasure.
This is the biggest contradiction a child or teenager who is being abused can feel.
How can they feel pleasure due to something that they don’t want to be happening?
And I’ll explain why.
One thing is what you want or what you think and another thing is your body.
The body reacts spontaneously.
You can’t control a natural reaction.
And feeling pleasure, does NOT mean that you like what’s happening to you.
These are different things.
Pleasure is the natural physiological reaction to a sexual stimulation.
But it has nothing to do with believing that because you feel pleasure, you also wanted it to happen.
Don’t confuse those two.
Because this confusion makes many people unable to confess childhood sexual abuse as adults.
Of course, that pleasure not always happens, sometimes there’s only disgust, but if for a thousandth of a second you felt pleasure, now you know why.
So don’t torture yourself.
Denial by the family
Most abuses happen within families and their close circles.
The trust in these circles makes it hard to perceive childhood sexual abuse.
And it’s not only hard to notice that something is going on, in extreme cases, people in the family allow the abuse to continue to “keep up appearances”.
This is devastating for the boy or girl who’s been abused and it’s a huge blow to their future self-esteem and self-confidence.
That is why some people, once they reach their adult life, may accept abuses of many different kinds (disrespect, verbal or physical abuse, being constantly undetermined, etc.), because at the time, they weren’t protected by the adult who was supposed to be at their side.
It’s a pity.
But these things happen.
If nobody knows about it, it’s as if it never happened, but deep down you know it isn’t so:
And now I’m not talking about your family, I’m talking about you.
If you don’t talk about it, you’ll avoid remembering some unpleasant feelings, loads of guilt and confusion.
Why rummage into the past to find something that already happened?
It’s true, the past won’t change.
However, the following could happen in your adult life:
- You can’t fully enjoy your sexuality
- You can’t relax and enjoy the sensations
- You’re afraid of sexual intercourse
- You live with huge stress for anything related to your sensuality or sexuality
If in your adult life you have these or any other problems, and you can’t solve them, you may want to investigate if its related to what happened to you.
Of course, first you need to try and solve what is manifesting, that is, you start with the “symptom” and then see if it leads you to the abuse experience.
Working on the abuse will help you release all of those locked-up feelings, all that unexpressed pain and the buren of carrying all that weight by yourself.
It isn’t about dwelling onto the past about changing the perception of what happened and the feelings associated with that experience.
You can heal the wound and learn to live your sexuality by having a different perspective.
What to do if you’ve been a victim of childhood sexual abuse?
Since I wrote this article I’ve received many e-mail inquiries, so I’d like to clarify some things:
If you’re not sure if it happened to you or not:
Some people tell me that they have a vague memory, others that they aren’t sure if it really happened or if they made it up… in these cases, I’d tell you to ask yourself what isn’t CURRENTLY working in your life? Are your relationships with others working? Your relationship with yourself?
And start there.
When one goes through an involuntary stressful situation or a trauma, their mind tends to archive what happened in a place that is INaccessible to their conscience. And that may be why you don’t remember, but be careful with this, you may have also heard or seen something (even on television) that impacted you and from there, your mind created a story and made it yours.
So, start with the problems or difficulties that you CURRENTLY have in your life and if that leads to more memories or experiences, then, you can work on the abuse issue from there, otherwise, don’t obsess over something if you’re unsure whether it happened or not.
If it happened to your child, or you aren’t sure if it happened:
In this case, you need to talk to your child. Maybe asking them directly isn’t the best way, because children find difficult to express themselves, especially if they’ve been told that “it’s a secret so they can’t tell anyone”, so, consider related topics, such as:
- what does he do when someone asks for something and he or she doesn’t want to do it
- how does he or she express it
- tell them a story about a third person who had a “similar” problem to the one you suspect they have and how they solved it
In short, be creative.
Here’s a video of Vicky Bernabet talking about how to teach trust (Spanish):
If you suffered childhood abuse and you haven’t shared it:
And I’d add, and it brings you problems. Because if what happened doesn’t currently bring you any kind of problems, I’d also like you to consider:
- To what extent do you need to dig into what happened?
- What for?
- What do you want to achieve?
- Is it “worth” opening a wound that’s already healed?
Think about it before opening it. Don’t turn something into a problem, if it isn’t one.
But let’s assume that yes, you’ve already worked on your current problems, but the sexuality problem persists.
My first advice is:
Seek professional help:
Childhood sexual abuse, be it of any kind, was an experience you didn’t want to go through. Something you didn’t understand at the time, but not, with professional help, you can understand and overcome.
And when I say understand, I don’t mean forgive or forget. As I mentioned before, it means seeing it differently, without guilt, being able to express anger or sadness from the love you have for yourself. That’s the objective.
I’m not a specialist on abuse, I do work with trauma and one of those traumas can be childhood abuse, but I’d like to share the Vicky Bernabet Foundation website, as they specialize in the subject.
Share it with the people you trust:
When so many years have gone by without talking about the issue, unintentionally, you’ve turned it into something huge. Being able to talk about it, will get it off your chest, and will make it something that “happened”, but by working on the issue with professional help, it will be much easier to communicate it to your loved ones.
Of course, be careful when selecting who you share that intimacy with, since you need to feel valued and not attacked by someone who claims that you made it up.
Read about the subject, as that will help you understand many things better:
Here’s the book that I read an of which I commented at the beginning, with the Amazon link, in case you want to buy it, it’s an old book, but it helped me expand my knowledge on the subject.
If you’re a man, the Vicky Bernabet Foundation recommended these two books (I didn’t find the English version of the second one):
If you’ve read this far, then I want to confess something:
As I’m the one encouraging you to share what happened, I’ll start by giving an example.
I can already tell you that even before writing this, I’m feeling very nervous.
When I was about 30 years old, I specialized in Gestalt Infant Therapy. Each month we tackled a different topic and a specialized psychologist would come to expand our knowledge.
One weekend we deal with the subject of abuse.
As the psychologist explained everything children went through, the feelings they experienced and broadened the concept of abuse to other areas and not only those focused on the sexual act, I started to get very nervous in class.
My heart started rushing until I asked the psychologist:
And if what’s happening to that girl is only with a boy who’s a year older than her, is it also considered abuse?
To which she replied: Did that girl want that to happen to her?
My answer was categorical: NO.
Then, I had to leave the room… I had just learned that I had suffered childhood sexual abuse, even though I didn’t know it, because I didn’t fully understand the concept.
But can it really be considered sexual abuse if it happens among children?
I couldn’t believe it, because accepting it meant recognizing it.
I spent an entire year working with her on this.
And now I can tell you that it was one of the best things I did in my life.
Pouffe! That was hard to get out…
I don’t really go around telling this to everyone, but today I do dare to explain it because I’d like you to dare too, to seek help so you don’t have to continue carrying such a heavy secret in silence.
P.S. Due to the sensitivity of the subject I have decided not to allow comments on this post. Each case is unique so if you want to help you in your case, you can book a session with me here.