For the thousands of survivors of childhood sexual abuse, maintaining proper mental health can feel like an uphill battle. Educating yourself on how childhood sexual abuse can devastate survivors’ mental health is key to understanding how we as a community can help survivors and support them as they cope with their experiences.
An unfortunate reality of child sexual abuse is that children are often abused by someone they know and trust. Around 34% of perpetrators are actually members of the victims own family and over 50% are known acquaintances. In both scenarios, abusers use their positions of trust with the victim, the victim’s family, or within their community to groom and isolate their victims. Grooming dismantles a child’s sense of self, sense of control, and their ability to feel safe. Additionally, children ages 6 to 12 who are sexually or physically abused are more likely to develop mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Adult survivors of child sexual abuse often carry the weight of their experiences for years. Survivors may feel increased feelings of guilt, shame, blame, struggles with intimacy and relationships, and difficulty maintaining their self-esteem. The long-term effects of these mental struggles can be devastating, with a study conducted by the University of Manchester finding that survivors of child sexual abuse are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
One of the most important and impactful ways we can support survivors of child sexual abuse and assault is to create safe, judgment-free spaces where they can share their stories. Reminding survivors you believe their experiences, that they are blameless in the abuse, and that they are not alone are some of simplest ways to create a supportive environment for survivors.
However, sexual abuse, and its implications, is an extremely complicated and difficult topic that often requires professional help. Ensuring survivors have access to mental health counseling and support organizations, like the Arkansas Crisis Center, is another way we can help protect the mental health and lives of child sexual abuse survivors.