Healing After Child Sexual Abuse

When a perpetrator intentionally harms a minor physically, psychologically, sexually, or by acts of neglect, the crime is known as child abuse. Child sexual abuse, also known as CSA, is a form of child abuse that includes sexual activity with a victim under the age of 18 years old. While there are many forms of child sexual abuse, and CSA does not need to include physical contact between a perpetrator and a child, it’s important to know that, at no point can a child consent to any form of sexual activity and sexual advances — period. When a perpetrator engages with a child this way, they are committing a crime that can have lasting effects on the victim for years. (Read more about forms of child sexual abuse and warning signs to watch for.)

Survivors of child sexual abuse may experience many short-term or long-term effects throughout their lifetime. The after-effects can be overwhelming and extremely difficult to manage at times. Overcoming the trauma, shame, and guilt that is left behind can be a difficult task. However, when one decides to address the hurt and the pain, the healing journey can begin.

The path toward healing is different for everyone. At times, the journey can be filled with highs and accomplishments; at other times, it can feel like progress has stalled, or is even moving backward. That’s because healing is not linear but rather an upward spiral filled with both joy and sorrow and ups and downs.

No matter how old you are or how long ago you experienced abuse, it is never too late to begin your healing journey. Check out some ways you can get started. Deciding to heal is investing in making decisions that promote recovery. It is important to know that there is not one way of healing. What works for one person, may not work for another, so it is important to try a variety of approaches and figure out what works best for you.

Adult survivors of child sexual abuse face some unique challenges along their healing journey. Survivors of childhood trauma may perceive the world through the lens of their past trauma. Certain events or environmental factors may trigger memories that can make present moments feel unsafe, though the potential for harm may be low. For many adult survivors of CSA, becoming a parent can bring mixed emotions. A history of child sexual abuse does not mean that an individual shouldn't be a parent, nor does it mean that they will abuse their children.

If you are an adult survivor who also happens to be a parent, you are not alone. Managing parental responsibilities and the responsibilities of healing can be tough. Being a survivor of child sexual abuse and raising a child of your own can also be empowering, raw, and transformative. Read more on parenting after child sexual abuse in a trauma-informed way.

To speak with a trained support specialist, visit the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.


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