Living as a Survivor

Navigating through life’s adult challenges can be difficult enough, let alone if you are the survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). The effects of CSA can be long-term, and can be physical, emotional, and mental in nature.1 Many of these effects can impact the way a survivor creates and maintains relationships, how they are able to parent their own children, and how they navigate their own personal health care needs.

Childhood sexual abuse can impact many aspects of life

Survivors of CSA may also be less likely to attain higher levels of education, higher salaries, and better, more fulfilling jobs when compared to their non-abused peers.2,3 This may be due to feelings of low self-worth or self-confidence, physical health issues, such as chronic fatigue or chronic pain, or issues regarding mental health, including severe anxiety or depression. Triggers may be everywhere for adult survivors, and may be present in common experiences including routine examinations at the doctor’s office, being intimate with another individual, or even in regular parenting or childcare experiences, such as changing diapers, breastfeeding, or showing children positive affection.

Every experience is unique, and there are resources that can help

It’s important to remember that there is no specific way a survivor of CSA should be expected to navigate their adult life. Everyone’s triggers, experiences, and personal narratives will be incredibly different, and can lead to different life paths and events. However, something that is common to all adult survivors of CSA is that no matter how long ago the abuse was, the characteristics of the abuse, or where you’re at in life now, there is always time and resources available to help. Whether it’s in finding a job, learning how to navigate higher education options, exploring a healthy, intimate relationship, and more, there are organizations and allies out there to assist you in whatever you may need. Although it may be the hardest step, disclosing your history, in as much or as little detail as you need, may be a great place to start in order to access help in navigating whatever you’re struggling with.

As always, life will present its challenges to everyone, regardless of their past abuse history. However, it is important to watch for signs (in yourself or in a loved one) of unhealthy coping behaviors. In some cases, professional support may be needed, and can take the form of medication, therapy, counseling, support groups and more.

  1. Hall M, Hall J. The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse: Counseling implications. American Counseling Association. Published 2011. Accessed January 5, 2018.
  2. Zielinski DS. Long-term socioeconomic impact of child abuse and neglect: Implications for Policy. Purdue University, College of Health and Human Sciences. Accessed January 5, 2018.
  3. Hardner K, Wolf MR, Rinfrette ES. Examining the relationship between higher educational attainment, trauma symptoms, and internalizing behaviors in child sexual abuse survivors. Child Abuse Negl. 23 Oct 2017. Abstract available from: Accessed January 5, 2018.

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