Childhood Sexual Abuse and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Posted On April 5, 2021
***Trigger Warning: this article will address childhood sexual abuse and may not be suitable for all audiences.***
As our readers know by now, CPTSD Foundation is not afraid to tackle tough subjects that have for too long been considered taboo. This month’s articles will be about childhood sexual abuse and the recovery process to achieve a healthy and happy adult life.
This article will concentrate on what childhood sexual abuse is and how it relates to complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
Childhood Sexual Abuse, the Hidden Epidemic
It is simply human nature that no one wants to admit that children can and are sexually abused. After all, to admit that children are mistreated in such heinous ways makes us feel heartsick.
However, child sexual abuse does occur, and it leaves scars that will last a lifetime.
The only way to defeat childhood sexual abuse is to bring it out into the open, where it can be clearly seen (David et al., 2016).
What is Childhood Sexual Abuse?
The definition may seem a no-brainer to those in the know, but even those who have experienced sexual childhood trauma may have a narrow idea of what it is, and this can be a problem. Not understanding what childhood sexual abuse is can harm people because they do not understand that what they experienced was indeed abuse and not normal.
There are three types of sexual abuse of a child, contact, non-contact, and online.
Contact sexual abuse happens when an abuser makes physical contact with a child, including:
Touching the child in a sexual manner anywhere on the child’s body, whether the child is dressed or not
Using a part of the or an object to penetrate a child
Making a child undress
Making a child touch another person, including other children
Forcing a child to do sexual activities
Touching, kissing, or oral sex with a child (sexual abuse does not need to be penetrative.)
Non-contact abuse means a child is abused without being physically touched by an abuser. This includes in-person and online. Non-contact sexual abuse includes:
Exposing of genitalia to a child
Exposing breasts to a child
Showing a child pornography
Making a child watch sexual acts
Making a child masturbate
Forcing a child to make or view sexual images or videos
The distribution of images or videos of a child pornography
Forcing a child to carry out sexual conversations or activities online
Remember, a child is an innocent victim in all the above circumstances as they have no control over what an adult will do. They cannot get away or tell an adult no, so they are completely exonerated from any blame.
Who Sexually Abuses Children?
When child sexual abuse is mentioned, many people have an image in their minds of a deviant man dressed in ragged clothes with no job or living in the backwoods.
This description is wrong.
Child sexual abusers look like everyone else, often hold high-esteem jobs, and can be women. Sexual abusers cross all demographic lines, including income, race, sex, and where they live.
30-40% of child sexual abuse victims are abused by a close family member rather than a stranger, with 50% of victims being harmed by someone outside the family that the family knows and trusts, such as a pastor or a boy scout leader.
About 40% of child sexual abuse victims are abused by older or larger children that they know, with 50% of these children being under the age of 12.
The list of those who can and do sexually abuse children is long, with siblings, mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers, and social leaders having been caught in the past doing just that.
The Chilling Statistics of Childhood Sexual Abuse
The statistics of the number of children who are sexually abused before the age of 18 are staggering.
1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused
1 in 5 children are solicited for sex on the internet
Nearly 70% of all assault (this includes adults) happens to kids age 17 and under.
More than 20% of victims of childhood sexual abuse are the age of 8 or under.
Many victims of childhood sexual abuse will never disclose their abuse to anyone else, choosing instead to keep the secret their abuser told them they had to keep.
Signs A Child Has Been or Is Currently Being Sexually Abused
As adults, we must be diligent in watching over our children and those of our neighbors. If we recognize the following signs in a child, it is time to immediately get help. Even if you are wrong, it is better to err on the side of caution.
Some physical signs of childhood sexual abuse include:
A child having a sexually transmitted infection
Signs of damage to the child’s genital area such as unexplained bleeding, bruising,
or blood on sheets, clothing, or underwear.
Behavioral signs might include:
Knowledge of talk of sexual topics beyond the child’s years
Not talking as much as usual
Acting like they are keeping a secret
Having developed a fear of being left alone with certain people
Being afraid to be away from the child’s parents or caregivers (if it is a new behavior)
Sudden onset of thumb-sucking or bedwetting
Sexual behavior towards themselves of another child
Spending a lot of their time alone
Withdrawal from family and friends
Trying to avoid bathing or removing their clothes
Emotional signs of sexual abuse of a child are as follows:
Increased aggression or change in mood and personality
Decrease in confidence
Decrease in self-image
A change in eating habits
Excessive fear or worry
Stomach aches and headaches that cannot be unexplained
Decrease in interest in activities, friends, and schoolwork
If you recognize any of these signs in a child, please, do not hesitate to act.
If you recognize these signs from your childhood, chances are you were sexually abused as a child.
Ongoing Childhood Sexual Abuse and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) forms in response to chronic traumatization over months or years. Sexual abuse of a child that is repeated and where the victim feels they cannot escape is often the trigger for CPTSD.
Those children who go through childhood sexual abuse when the brain is still developing and are just beginning to form who they are as a person can cause the child’s entire neurological and psychological development to be arrested.
Along with the sexual abuse, child victims may also suffer from neglect where they experience mixed affections from the perpetrator, thus forming a disorganized attachment disorder from the mixed messages they receive.
Adults who were sexually abused as children often grow up with symptoms that frequently interrupt day-to-day life. Emotional dysregulation is the primary culprit as survivors of childhood abuse who formed CPTSD have a horrible time with emotions, both experiencing and controlling them.
Many other victims of childhood sexual abuse and CPSD have persistent sadness, anger, and suicidal thoughts. It is common for survivors to re-experience their emotions from childhood in emotional flashbacks, where they feel the emotions they felt as children but do not experience the sights, smells, or sounds.
CPTSD and childhood sexual abuse are intimately linked, but both can be treated, and someone living with them can excel in life.
There is Always Hope
Whether you are reading this piece because you have been abused or know someone who was, it is important to remember that life goes on after sexual abuse.
You are NOT damaged goods, and your history does not define your present or your future.
Never, ever give up on yourself or someone you know who experienced childhood sexual abuse. There are hope and life afterward; I am a living example that this is true.
I was sexually abused when I was a child, from shortly after birth to 15, by a relative whom I loved very much. The things he did and the lack of parental recognition of what was going on locked me into a prison where I hid and pent up all my relative’s activities and how I felt about it.
I have formed complex post-traumatic stress disorder and a few other mental health disorders that have hampered my life in the past.
Today, after treatment, I am beyond surviving; I am thriving. I enjoy my life and, while acknowledging my past, do not live there any longer. I am moving forward because I sought treatment as an adult.
I tell you my story so you can understand that you too can live a happy and contented life after childhood sexual abuse and despite CPTSD.
“THE GOOD LIFE requires that we take pleasure in new things; A GOOD LIFE requires that we take pleasure in moments.
To enjoy THE GOOD LIFE, we have to get ahead; to enjoy A GOOD LIFE, we have to make the trip worthwhile.
THE GOOD LIFE is not supported by feeding our pocketbooks; A GOOD LIFE is supported by feeding our souls.” ~ Steve Goodier
A. David, O. Ezecki, A. Wapmuk, (2016). Child Sexual Abuse: The Hidden Epidemic. Nigerian Journal of Clinical & Biomedical Research