A survivor of childhood sexual abuse may not feel comfortable seeking treatment for the long-term health effects related to the trauma, as well as any other conditions or symptoms they may experience throughout their life.1 Although not everyone’s experience is the same, some suggestions for why this aversion to treatment may exist are the fear of disclosing past traumatic events that may be related to or relevant when seeking treatment, or wanting to avoid feeling out of control or powerless when asking a physician for help. The doctor-patient relationship is one where the doctor often holds most of the power, and survivors of CSA may not feel comfortable putting themselves in this vulnerable situation. Additionally, some individuals may want to avoid certain examinations, especially of the mouth, throat, or genital regions, to avoid triggering memories of an unwanted experience.2
Disclosing past experiences with abuse can improve medical care
In order to be able to participate in a needed examination or procedure, an individual may need to tell their provider what they have been through in order to feel more in control, at ease, or informed on why a physician is doing what they are doing. However, this is much easier said than done. How much you share is completely up to you, and it is never alright for a doctor to make you feel dismissed, rushed, or judged for the amount you’ve chosen to share or what you’ve shared with them. Not every physician will create a comforting space for an individual to share their past experiences, nor will they provide those visiting them with the opportunity to do so. It’s important to remember that if your provider does not make you feel comfortable enough to ask questions or share what you need to, they may not be the right provider for you.
Not all medical encounters are routine and non-emergent. However, it’s important to remember that even in an emergency, although it may be hard to convey any apprehension you may have due to the nature of the situation, you should still feel as though your best interests are in mind by your healthcare team and that they are doing what is best for you.
Some organizations may be able to assist survivors of sexual abuse in finding a trained professional in their area who specializes in working with this population. For example, the National Sexual Assault Hotline can be dialed for immediate assistance, support, and local resources including local health facilities specifically trained in assisting survivors of sexual abuse. The hotline can be contacted at 800-656-HOPE (800-656-4673) or can be accessed via an online confidential chat at online.rainn.org.
- Hall M, Hall J. The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse: Counseling implications. American Counseling Association. https://www.counseling.org/docs/disaster-and-trauma_sexual-abuse/long-term-effects-of-childhood-sexual-abuse.pdf?sfvrsn=2. Published 2011. Accessed December 27, 2017.
- Gallo-Silver L, Anderson CM, Romo J. Best clinical practices for male adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse: “Do no harm.” Perm J. 2014; 18(3), 82-87.