Sexual Abuse Trauma
Post-traumatic stress disorder is familiar to most people as an affliction of those who have had horrifying experiences in war, but that is far from the only (or even the most common) cause. Such traumatic events as a natural disaster, a criminal attack, physical abuse and sudden loss can bring on PTSD. Sexual abuse, whether experienced by a child or an adult, is a frequent cause of continuing and debilitating symptoms.
Symptoms of Sexual Abuse Trauma
Not everyone who is sexually abused will suffer from PTSD. If the abuse was an isolated incident, the victim may be able to recover from it within a relatively short period of time. If the abuse was ongoing, PTSD is more likely. Even a one-time incident, however, can result in symptoms that can last for years, or even for an entire lifetime.
Symptoms of sexual abuse trauma differ greatly from one victim to another. Children who have been sexually abused may display the following symptoms:
- Sleep disturbances
- Excessive masturbation
- Physical traumas to the genital or anal area
- Regressive behavior, such as wetting the bed
- Loss of appetite or other eating disorders
- Engaging in persistent sexual play
- Displaying sophisticated sexual behavior
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Changes in school performance
- Unusual curiosity about sexual subjects
It’s important to remember that sexual abuse does not have to involve actual physical contact. Cyber abuse, such as exposing a child to pornography, has become widespread in recent years.
Treatment of Sexual Abuse Trauma
When a child has been traumatized by sexual abuse, the first aspect that must be addressed is whether the child’s home environment is safe. Most often, a child who was sexually abused by a stranger or online will be best treated with outpatient counseling, since removal from the home environment can cause further trauma. However, if the perpetrator is in the child’s home, he or she must be removed immediately. It may even be in the best interest of the child to initiate treatment at a residential trauma rehab center.
Treatment of sexually abused children must be undertaken by someone who specializes in that field. Among the issues that must be addressed are:
- Reassuring the child that she is blameless
- Dealing with feelings of shame and guilt
- Empowering the child with the ability to protect him or herself
- Helping the child differentiate normal behavior from abuse
- Reassuring the child that no harm will come to him or those he loves as a result of reporting the abuse
- Providing ongoing support for the child