Impact of Abuse on the Survivor
There is no one description of a survivor since survivors can vary by age, sex, race, etc, and since the abuse can vary in severity, length, and relationship to the abuser. However, sexual abuse has a distinct impact that can often be recognized, especially when the abuse was chronic and/or committed by a family member.
On the surface, you may appear to be doing fine, but you or those close to you may realize that something is wrong or missing. Several common reactions are frequently observed in survivors. While these reactions may seem puzzling to others and even yourself, they can usually be linked to childhood coping mechanisms that helped you survive the abuse.
A few of the common reactions are:
- Guilt, Shame, & Blame — You may blame yourself for not stopping or disclosing the abuse, for experiencing physical pleasure when your body responded naturally to sexual stimulations, for seeking affection from adults in order to feel loved. You may have internalized feelings of shame. The secretive nature of sexual abuse can enhance feelings of shame, believing that others would judge, dislike, or reject you if the abuse were disclosed.
- Trust & IntimacyDifficulties — Survivors of sexual abuse often find it difficult to trust others. Often the abuser is someone the survivor trusted, leading to feelings of betrayal and distrust. Because of this early betrayal, you may struggle with fears of abandonment or further betrayal, which may lead you to avoid closeness or cling too tightly to relationships that feel potentially safe. Also, intimacy requires trust, respect, love, and sharing, all of which can feel very threatening.
- Memory gaps — you may be “missing” memories for large portions of your childhood or only remember portions of the abuse.
- Triggers — Triggers are specific touches, sights, sounds, or smells that evoke a memory of the sexual abuse and often result in emotional reactions of panic, dissociation, fear, etc. You may go to great lengths to limit activities to avoid potential triggers.
- Dissociation — Dissociation is a common coping mechanism of abuse survivors, generally learned in childhood as a way to separate from the abuse. Dissociation can range from an emotional numbing to complete memory black-outs. You may appear to “day dream” a lot, have difficulty focusing, be forgetful, or be seen as guarded.
- Grieving & Mourning — Victims of childhood sexual abuse experience many losses. There is a loss of innocence, loss of a carefree childhood, loss of security and trust, possibly a loss of a normal relationship with parental figures, loss of opportunity to choose your own sexual experiences and partner, etc.
It’s Not Your Fault!
Survivors of sexual abuse often blame themselves for the abuse. There are many reasons that a survivor might blame themselves. Here are just a few…
- Not Stopping the abuse — Adult survivors often forget how powerless they were as children and how much bigger the abuser was. Abuser’s can use their power through manipulation, intimidation, and/or coercion.
- Not telling anyone about the abuse — Children and adults don’t tell about abuse for many reasons. Someone being abused might fear that no one will believe them, that they will be blamed or rejected, that someone will be hurt, or that telling won’t change anything. A child who is being abused may believe that others already know, think the abuse is normal, want to protect the abuser, or blame themselves for the abuse.
- Having more than one abuser — it is easy to blame yourself when you have had more than one abuser, believing that you are the common factor. Children are only abused by more than one abuser because they are unprotected and several abusers have access to them—not because of who they are. Also, abuse victims may feel they have no power, no right to say “no,” or believe they deserve the abuse.
- Experiencing some kind of reward for the abuse — The type of reward can vary from attention/affection to monetary gifts. The need for attention/affection is natural. Children seek out attention, not abuse! Also, abusers often exploit children by providing gifts and then suggesting that the child is complicit in the crime. The child believes that since they were “paid off” they cannot tell and are equally to blame. Receiving a gift in no way means that the child wanted or consented to the abuse.
- Being told that it is your fault — Children are often told by the abuser or people protecting the abuser that they are at fault for the abuse. In order to avoid feelings of personal guilt, abusers often justify their behavior. One way of attempting to justify their behavior is to convince themselves and the child that the child wants the sexual abuse. The abuser may tell the child that they instigated the abuse by being affectionate, by what they wore, etc. Others, especially within the family, may also blame the child in order to excuse the abuser. For example, after learning that her husband is abusing their daughter, a mother may blame the child for the abuse so that she can justify not leaving the abuser. Regardless of what you were told…
ABUSE IS NEVER THE CHILD'S FAULT!
Should I Report the Abuse to CPS?
You do not have to report your own abuse, but, if there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is currently being abused or in danger of being abused, professionals are required to file a report with Child Protective Services. As a citizen you may file a report but are not required to report.
It is not up to you to determine whether your suspicions are true or not. A trained investigator will evaluate the situation.
Even if your report does not bring decisive action, it may help establish a pattern that will eventually be clear enough to help the child.
To make a report… Call the abuse and neglect hotline at 1-800-252-5400. Provide as much information as you can about the abuser and suspected victim.
Will they know I reported it?
If you are not a mandated reporter, you can remain anonymous. Either way, your report is confidential and not subject to public release. CPS does not release the identity of the person making the report. The law provides immunity from any liability for innocent persons who report even unfounded suspicions, as long as your report is made in good faith. Your identity is kept confidential.
What About Filing a Police Report?
The statute of limitations for reporting sexual assault or sexual abuse is 10 years in the state of Texas. However, when the sexual assault/abuse is against a minor, the statute of limitations does not start until the victim’s 18th birthday. This means that in Texas, you have until your 28th birthday to report childhood sexual abuse.
Whether or not to report the abuse to police is completely your choice.
Advantages to reporting:
- If you report the crime and the offender is caught, you may have protected others from being victimized. Also, your reporting may help strengthen another survivor’s report.
- You will be eligible for Crime Victims’ Compensation provided by the state of Texas to assist in paying some related financial losses.
Disadvantages of reporting:
- It may be difficult for you to repeat your story numerous times to law enforcement and the court.
- Even if you choose to report the crime and choose to press charges, the police may or may not transfer the case to the District Attorney’s office and the DA may or may not pursue the case.
- Most sexual assault cases do not go to trial.