Information for Female Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Some aspects of CSA and its long-term effects are gender-specific. For example, childhood sexual abuse happens more frequently to girls than to boys.1 Girls are at greater risk for CSA in adolescence as compared to boys who are at greater risk at younger ages.  Unlike boys, girls are more likely to tell someone about their experiences. However, disclosure rates are quite low regardless of the victim’s gender.

Women who experience CSA often face challenges as adults

Women with CSA histories report many challenges in adulthood. These problems include greater chance of being revictimized in adulthood including intimate partner violence with romantic partners.2 Why this occurs is not well understood. Women reporting CSA histories are also more likely to experience adverse sexual effects and discomfort. These include a disturbance or lack of ability to orgasm, a decrease in desire or arousal, chronic pelvic pain, vaginismus (tightening of the vaginal muscles), nonspecific vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina), and dyspareunia (painful intercourse). Vaginismus, vaginitis, and dyspareunia may also prevent a woman from inserting tampons or undergoing a regular gynecological exam without pain. Women who have experienced CSA are also less likely to undergo regular Pap smears, an exam that screens for cervical cancer by collecting tissue from the inside of the vagina.



Finding the right support can help

Many of these long-term side effects may be manageable with appropriate counseling, medical attention, and treatment interventions. Several studies specifically have shown that women survivors of CSA tend to respond positively to individual or group therapy when compared to survivors who have not participated in these interventions. Specifically, female survivors who attended group therapy experienced a decrease in depression, self-blame, posttraumatic stress responses, and social maladjustment.6-7

An important step in managing female-specific CSA effects may be talking with your primary care provider or gynecologist about any adverse issues you are facing. Many health care providers are trained in how to respond to CSA survivors, and more are being trained through educational initiatives in the medical field. Your provider should allow you to disclose as little or as much as you’d like and should work with you to find treatment options that you are comfortable with.

 

References

  1. Murray, L. K., Nguyen, A., & Cohen, J. A. (2014). Child sexual abuse. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics, 23(2), 321-337.
  2. Dube, S. R., Anda, R. F., Whitfield, C. L., Brown, D. W., Felitti, V. J., Dong, M., & Giles, W. H. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American journal of preventive medicine, 28(5), 430-438.
  3. Trickett, P. K., Noll, J. G., & Putnam, F. W. (2011). The impact of sexual abuse on female development: Lessons from a multigenerational, longitudinal research study. Development and Psychopathology23(2), 453-476.
  4. Adult Manifestations of Childhood Sexual Abuse. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Health-Care-for-Underserved-Women/Adult-Manifestations-of-Childhood-Sexual-Abuse. Published August 2011. Accessed December 15, 2017.
  5. Finkelhor D. Current information on the scope and nature of child sexual abuse. Future Child 1994; 4:31-53.
  6. Classen, C. C., Palesh, O. G., Cavanaugh, C. E., Koopman, C., Kaupp, J. W., Kraemer, H. C., … & Spiegel, D. (2011). A comparison of trauma-focused and present-focused group therapy for survivors of childhood sexual abuse: A randomized controlled trial. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy3(1), 84-93.
  7. Morgan T, Cummings AL. Change experienced during group therapy by female survivors of childhood sexual abuse. J Consult Clin Psychol. Feb 1999; 67(1), 28-36.

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