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Surviving sexual abuse - for parents

sex; sexual; abuse; assault; rape;

Sexual abuse is a serious crime and can have many short and long term effects on a victim or survivor. The effects of sexual abuse are not the same for every person. People may feel a variety of emotions that depend on their own circumstances.

No person, male or female, young or older, has the right to make any child or young person do sexual things they would not have freely chosen to do, and are over the age of consent.

This topic may be one that you want to read for yourself, or it could be something that you pass on to a young person or adult that you know.  It is written for parents but it will be useful for children, young people and adults who have been sexually abused.

As there can be so many effects from sexual abuse, people can have a difficult time emotionally dealing with so much at once. They may believe that the abuse has not affected them, but then they might feel emotions that they can't explain, or have sudden mood swings.

There is a topic on our pregnancy website called Survivors of child abuse as pregnancy and childbirth may be the triggers for difficult emotions relating to the abuse, and the abuse can be why survivors may have a lot of worries about examinations that will be needed during their pregnancy.

If you or someone you know are currently at risk or in a situation of abuse and live in South Australia, you can call 131 444 for Police assistance.

 The South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault offers a range of information resources  http://www.secasa.com.au 

Raising Children Network Raising Children website is produced with the help of an extensive network including the Australian Government.
http://raisingchildren.net.au/ 

Reachout  - a site for young people experiencing tough times
http://au.reachout.com/  

Contents of this topic

Sexual abuse is a serious crime and can have many short and long term effects on a victim or survivor. The effects of sexual abuse are not the same for every person. People may feel a variety of emotions that depend on their own circumstances.

If you or another person is currently at risk or in a situation of abuse and live in South Australia, you can call 131 444 for Police assistance.

For further assistance in South Australia you can call:

In other states and countries call your local crisis service or police service. You can ask for help from these services even if the abuse happened some time ago. Lifeline staffwill be able to help you find these services anywhere in Australia. Lifeline  - 13 11 14

 

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse can be physical, verbal and/or emotional. It is an abuse of power and often of trust by someone who uses another person for his or her own sexual pleasure. Sexual assault refers to any unwanted actions that are of a sexual nature that make the victim feel frightened or hurt them in some way.

No person, male or female, young or old, has the right to make any child or young person do sexual things they would not have freely chosen to do.

What kinds of things are sexual abuse?

Everyone has the right to feel safe all the time. If someone is making you or a child or a young person feel uncomfortable or unsafe, then it could be sexual abuse.

So, what might be happening? It could involve:

  • having parts of their body touched in a sexual way
  • being kissed in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable
  • being told to touch parts of their own body
  • being made to touch parts of another person's body
  • being made to watch someone masturbate or touch their own body in a sexual way
  • being made to act or model for pornographic purposes, or to watch pornographic material
  • being watched while showering or changing
  • putting objects (including penis and fingers) in the anus or mouth, and for young women, the vagina
  • making them have sex, or do sexual things with other people (rape)
  • making sexual comments and suggestions to them
  • sending sexual comments or suggestions to them via SMS or email
  • publishing photos on social media.

Sexual abuse, sexual assault and the law

Sexual assault, rape and sexual abuse are illegal. The law says that if they did not freely agree to any sexual acts, then they have not said 'yes'. Legally they can only agree to sexual acts if they are over 17 years old. (Legal Services of South Australia 1300 366 424)

  • It is not OK for someone to offer money, favours or gifts to try and get them to do sexual things that they do not want to do.
  • It is not OK for someone to blackmail them, use physical force or threaten them or people they care about, to get them to do something which makes them feel uncomfortable or makes them feel bad about themself.

When people sexually abuse others, they know what they are doing and they should know that it is against the law.

Who abuses children or young people?

The commonly held stereotype of a sexual abuser is that of an old man in a raincoat hanging around in parks. The reality is that most sexual abuse is done by people known to the victims including people in their family. Men and women and other children or teenagers who sexually abuse children or young people are of many different ages.

No person, male or female, young or old, has the right to make any child or young person do sexual things they would not have freely chosen to do.

They have the right to say NO.

Can you keep them safe?

Remember that everyone has the right to feel safe all the time.

When they were in primary school, they probably did some lessons with their teacher about keeping themself safe.

  • They would have made a list of trusted adults, starting with people in their life with whom they felt able to talk, even about the secret stuff in their mind.
  • They would have asked those people if they felt OK about being their trusted adult.
  • Maybe they would have added adults in their life at school: teachers or school counsellors.
  • Maybe they would have added their doctor, sports coaches or any adults outside the family who they knew would listen, keep their confidence and help them when needed.
  • Finally, they would have made a list, like the one in this topic, of organisations that could help them.

As a class they probably spent some time thinking about 'what you could do if…' in lots of different situations, and then wrote down and sorted through ideas about how to keep safe and help them sort out the problem.

The last things they would have learnt were:

  1. telling someone about your problem is the first step to solving it.
  2. to tell and keep on telling until something is done.

Coming forward - why is it hard to tell?

Some children and young people feel that if they disclose (tell someone about what happened) they will be harshly judged by those around them. Sometimes they feel like they are to blame in some way. Often the abuser will say things like, "He/she was asking for it by wearing clothes like that, or behaving like that", or "She/he made me think it was OK".

No one can make anyone think sexual abuse is OK. Abusers choose what they want to think or do.

What is important is to remember that sexual abuse is an abuse of power and it is not the fault or the child or young person.

People who abuse may use tactics to stop them telling anybody about what has happened to them. Some of these may include the following:

  • making threats of violence to them or their family
  • giving them gifts, money or favours to keep them from telling anybody
  • making friends with their family
  • convincing them that it was their fault or that they are enjoying it
  • convincing them that it will be bad for them and their family if they tell someone
  • threatening that they will lose their job
  • threatening to send or post information about them (including photos of them) on the Internet
  • sending threatening text messages.

Not telling anybody when something happened does not mean that you are weak or stupid, that you wanted it, or that you could have stopped it. It may have been the safest option for them at the time. But when they are ready, it does help to tell a trusted person about what has happened - this person may be able to protect them in the future and help them find people who can support them.

What are some effects?

The effects of sexual abuse can vary a great deal. They could be reminded of the abuse in many different ways and at different times, and often this might feel out of their control. Even if they have access to help that they find supportive, it will not take the past away, but may lessen the long term negative effects and help them to develop more coping skills.

Choose someone they feel completely comfortable with, who respects them and listens to them, to help them through this very difficult time.

Relationships

  • The abuse may have been perpetrated by someone they knew, making them feel unsure and afraid of trusting anyone again.
  • They may not feel safe in trusting people enough to be able to have a sexual relationship with a partner.

Poor self-perception

  • Their self-esteem or view of themself may have changed, and would be different to that of someone who has not experienced such trauma. They may feel really bad and lose confidence in themself.

Nightmares or flashbacks

  • It is common to experience nightmares, and for memories of what happened to come at unpredictable times. Things such as places, smells, rooms, or clothes can remind them or trigger memories of the abuse.

Pregnancy

Sexual abuse also puts girls people at risk of an unwanted pregnancy.

There is a topic on our Pregnancy site called Survivors of child sexual abuse which explores how girls and women might feel and the difficulties they might have during pregnancy. Partners may find this of value too.

Sexually transmitted infections

What are they feeling?

As there can be so many effects from sexual abuse, they can have a difficult time emotionally dealing with so much at once. They may believe that the abuse has not affected them, but then they might feel emotions that they can't explain, or have sudden mood swings.

Fear

  • They may have felt a very strong sense of fear at the time of the abuse because of the abuser.
  • They may not have spoken out in order to protect themself, fearing that they would be at more risk if the abuser found out that they reported it or told someone.

Anger

  • They may feel angry toward the abuser who has done this to them.
  • They may feel angry toward themself, thinking that they should have been able to stop it from happening.

Isolation

  • Although many people experience sexual abuse, it is common to feel alone and isolated since most people do not talk about it.
  • Knowing that there are other people they can relate to may help them to not feel so isolated.

Sadness

  • They may feel sad about the invasion into their privacy, and for the loss of their rights.

Guilt

  • Guilt is a terrible emotion to feel during or after a sexually abusive situation, and must be reversed.
  • The abuser should feel guilty, not them. Abuse of any form is about power, not about sex.
  • If they are feeling guilty, then the abuse will still be living strongly within them and it is important to change this. A counsellor may be able to help, and a good friend can be helpful too.

Confused

  • With all those emotions, the survivor will feel confused. If the abuser was someone they were once close to, they may even still feel love for the abuser, or not know what to think.
  • They should not be hard on themself for feeling confused. Remember, they are a survivor.

What if they felt like they enjoyed it?

Some young people worry because their bodies may become sexually aroused by what is happening to them, even though it frightens them. This is a physical reaction and it is their body's way of coping with the situation. This does not mean that they wanted or enjoyed the abuse.

Will they become an abuser too?

Often in the media they make it seem that children or young people who are sexually abused go on to become abusers themselves. This is not true and the link between the two is in no way proven. They have a choice about whether this is true for them. There is no reason to believe that if they have been abused they will become a perpetrator of abuse in the future.

They have control over their life.

On the road again to healing their self-esteem

It is time to get back in contact with their 'real' self. They need to know theirself again. Put what they want as a high priority.

Here are some things they could ask themself as they get 'on the road' to healing their self-esteem:

  • What things do they like to do?
  • Who is a good person to talk to when they need it?
  • What things do they value or believe in?
  • What is their personality like? How would someone describe them?
  • What am they good at? (Talking, reading, playing tennis, being messy?)
  • Do they want to talk to a counsellor?
  • Would they like to join a support group?
  • Do they want to read some books on self-esteem or sexual abuse?

Helping someone

If someone you know has decided to tell you that they have survived sexual abuse, chances are it was one of the most difficult things they have ever had to do, and that they trust you heaps! It may also freak you out! You may feel that it is too difficult for you to talk about, or you don't know what to say.

  • Make sure they know you believe them.
  • Listen to what they say, and do not expect them to tell you everything about the experience to prove that what they are saying is true.
  • Acknowledge what has happened, what they are saying and what they are feeling.
  • Encourage them to seek support, but don't pressure them.
  • Be open to helping them but be clear with each other about what you can and cannot do. You may not be able to keep them safe.
  • Don't put pressure on yourself thinking that you must come up with solutions for your friend's complex issues.
  • Reassure the person that he or she has survived a huge trauma and therefore is a strong and courageous person. Acknowledge the courage it has taken to talk to you.

If you are worried and don't know what to do to help your child or friend, it may be a good idea for you to talk to someone or ring any of the numbers listed above.

Don't talk to other family members or friends without permission. The person who has been abused has the right their privacy and to decide who to tell this to.

Sex and sexual relationships

Being subjected to sexual abuse can get them feeling very confused about the whole idea of sexuality and intimacy. They may feel a variety of emotions if they are presented with making a decision about sexual intimacy. They may find difficulty trusting someone enough to become intimate. It would probably be helpful to talk with a counsellor about this.

There is a topic on our Pregnancy website for Survivors of sexual abuse who are pregnant. 

Does this mean they are gay?

A common misconception is that if a young man is sexually abused by a man, it means that they become sexually attracted to men. Being attracted to other men is not related to whether or not they were sexually abused by men. Being same-sex attracted is about love and forming positive relationships. Being raped or abused does not need to impact on whether they are attracted to men or women.

Have a look at 'Male adult survivors'
http://www.secasa.com.au/information-sheets/information-for-adult-male-survivors/ 

Resources

South Australia

Australia

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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