Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Who Is an Adult Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse?

  • An individual who was sexually abused as a child is an adult survivor of child sexual abuse. This abuse may have had long-term effects on the survivor’s life. In most instances, the victim of the abuse never discussed the abuse with others while it was occurring. This individual is learning now, as an adult, to deal with the effects of the abuse.
  • Child sexual abuse occurs when a child is used for the sexual gratification of an older adolescent or adult. It also involves the abuse of power that an adult has over a child. The sexual abuse may be used by the adult as a means of fulfilling his need to be powerful.
  • Sexual abuse occurs across all communities regardless of race, religion, cultural heritage, social or economic status.

Possible Long-Term Effects:

  • Each individual’s experiences and reactions are unique to that individual. However, with so many survivors breaking the silence and talking about their experiences, it has become apparent that there are some responses to child sexual abuse that are common to many survivors.
  • Feelings of extremely low self-esteem or self-hatred are common in survivors. Extreme depression is something with which survivors also battle.
  • Survivors often experience frequent sleep disturbances and nightmares. Links have been made between this and the fact that children are often sexually abused in their rooms, in their own beds.
  • Trust is a crucial issue for many survivors throughout their lives. They were betrayed by the very people who cared for them, who insisted they loved them even while abusing them.
  • Re-victimization describes the process whereby women who were sexually abused as children frequently find themselves in abusive, dangerous situations, or relationships as adults.
  • Survivors with disabilities who experienced sexual abuse in childhood might never have reached a level of independence to escape this abuse and it has become a way of life.
  • Flashbacks can be frightening experiences, not only for the survivors, but for those around them. During a ‘flashback’, the survivor re-experiences the sexual abuse as if it were occurring at that moment. It is usually accompanied by visual images, or flashes of images, of the abuse. This is one of the ways of remembering the abuse. Flashbacks are often triggered by an event, action, or even a smell that is reminiscent of the sexual abuse or the abuser.