7 Things Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse Wish Others Knew

7 Things Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse Wish Others Knew

Thank you to the hundreds of respondents who completed the Childhood Abuse and Sexual Trauma (CAST) survey. Your willingness to share your truth will make a difference in helping others understand the true impact of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and how to support survivors and protect children.

Telling others about experiences with CSA is never easy, and the reactions survivors receive can truly impact their healing. We asked survivors what they wished others knew about CSA. Here’s what they had to say:

Warning: May contain triggers for survivors of childhood sexual abuse

1. It’s NEVER the child’s fault
  • “No one deserves to have his or her soul shattered by abuse. It is not your fault!”
  • “The sooner a child comes to know that the abuse was not their fault, the sooner they will stop hating themselves.”
  • “The victim is never at fault, we didn’t ask for it and we don’t deserve it.
  • “There is no excuse for it. None. Ever.”
  • “The abuse is never the survivor’s fault.”
  • “Blaming the victims is the worst thing you can do.”
2. It can happen to anyone and perpetrators are rarely strangers
  • “It can happen to anyone, and it can even happen for a long time without anyone knowing. If a child you are close to wants to talk or seems unusually scared of a person or place talk to them. Please talk to your children so that things can be prevented.”
  • “Abusers are not always creepy uncles or fathers. For me it was my role model, my older brother.”
  • “More than likely it will come from someone close to you rather than a stranger.”
  • “The people you give access to your children that you would never expect are the real danger; family members, friends, & other children.”
  • Anyone can be the abuser, even those who “would never do anything like that”. And anyone can be a victim. Even the strongest people out there.”
  • “It happens. Even when you cannot outwardly see it. It happens to the best of us.”
  • “Anyone can be an abuser and you cannot trust your instinct with regard to this issue. Educate your children and talk openly about what they should do if someone tries to touch them inappropriately.”
  • “It has a huge impact, it can happen to any child, even really “nice” people can and do sexually abuse children, child abusers do not look like monsters
  • “It does not discriminate. My family and my abuser were very influential which stopped people from helping me as a child or having my abuser face consequences.”
  • “It’s extremely common and almost always perpetrated by someone you trust.”
3. Believe, support, encourage, and support survivors
  • “Never ask a survivor “are you sure?”
  • “You don’t have to lean forward when someone shares their truth with you. But don’t lean back. That natural reaction to lean back when you are repulsed is incredibly damaging to the person sharing. So, if you hear someone’s story, don’t move around in shock and horror.  As horrible as what you are hearing may be, you’re doing countless hours of damage to the person trying to be brave enough to deal with it.”
  • “It happens. If a child says something, please take the time to listen. Don’t sweep under the rug.”
  • “That its real. It can be happening right in front of you. Listen to words and actions of children around you. Act!!!! Be the voice that the child doesn’t have.”
  • “Don’t treat a survivor as damaged.”
  • “How parents react has a lot to do with how children heal.”
  • “It is rife and denial is the biggest reason it persists. Believe the child.”
  • “Listen to your kids. If they ever have the courage to tell you what’s going on believe them!”
  • “If a child tells you they’re being abused- BELIEVE THEM.”
4. There are many forms of abuse
  • “It can happen in many different forms, some less obvious than others.
  • “There are so many different types of sexual abuse.”
  • “It’s not just limited to direct assault. Growing up, my parents were very embarrassed of the fact that I didn’t want to date and didn’t fit in with my classmates. They encouraged me to engage in sexual behaviors with boys at school in order to fit in better. This had a traumatic impact on me.”
  • “It comes in many different forms and even the abused will have a hard time believing other people’s abuse stories. It is a lot more prevalent, and more disturbing, than many realize.”
  • “It is often covert and not necessarily violent.”
5. Childhood sexual abuse is trauma that can have lifelong impact
  • “Childhood sexual abuse changes the trajectory and outcome of one’s life and impact how they relate to others and view the world for a lifetime.”
  • Triggers can change! It doesn’t always make “sense” when that happens. New triggers can suddenly appear and disappear without warning. Something can trigger you one time and not the next. It often doesn’t even make sense to us!”
  • “It has impacted every part of my life, from my choice of mates, to my choice of jobs, to the way I parent my child.”
  • “It breaks the very soul of the child, twists and totally distorts their view of, love, trust, respect, security, healthy relationships….. recovery, misdiagnosis costs years of the child’s life, such a horrid act.”
  • “It affects you in your day to day life. One minute I can be fine, the next I’m back to being a helpless little kid again. I wish there was a cure and more understanding. I want teachers to know that a TON of students have experienced this so please give trigger warnings when discussing rape/sex/related topics. We shouldn’t have to be advocating for ourselves when we should be learning.”
  • “The triggers never stop, you learn new triggers at random times and it’s like reliving those things again, really knocks the wind out of you for a while even if you’re aware it’s a triggered response.”
  • “It has a catastrophic impact on people’s lives, much bigger than anybody who hasn’t experienced it could every image.”
  • “It can’t be left in the past. It’s something that is relived over and over again. For the person who experienced it, there is no escape from the negative feelings of shame and disgust and that’s extremely isolating.”
  • “We can move from victim to survivor, but it is a life long journey.”
6. There is hope
  • “It can affect every part of your life. But with hard work and support from loved ones and professionals you can overcome the effects and lead a happy productive life.”
  • “You can use your experience to help others.”
  • “You may relapse emotionally but eventually it gets better.”
  • “It does get better, therapy, work on yourself- learn confidence fake it till you make it. You got this!”
  • “This does not have to run your life. You can recover, you can heal, life does get better. There is hope.”
  • “You can live a good life regardless of the past!”
  • “It touches every aspect of your life. But you can survive and prosper. Talk to a therapist until it becomes just something that happened in your life and no longer defines you.”
  • “It does not and will not define you. You can overcome whatever trauma you experienced. It won’t be easy. It’s going to suck. You’re going to wait to quit. But I promise you that the results will be worth it.”
7. We need to take action
  • “Talk about CSA. It’s ugly, and scary but it’s the silence that lets it live.”
  • “Early intervention and treatment are as imperative to combatting the effects of trauma as treating.”
  • “Always be aware of the signals of child sexual abuse so you can stop the abuse.”
  • “Untreated childhood sexual abuse has long term detrimental effects on one’s life. Early intervention would help tremendously, in my opinion.”
  • “It doesn’t have to continue to ruin so many lives. We have the knowledge and tools to stop the cycles. Shame controls so much of how this continues to thrive and apathy should no longer be an option.”

Gravity Network conducted the Childhood Abuse and Sexual Trauma (CAST) survey with the goal of better understanding the impact of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) so we can more effectively support survivors and prevent future abuse. 771 survivors completed the survey, which was fielded online in 2018. Additional results of the survey will be published on gravity-network.org over time.

One thought on “7 Things Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse Wish Others Knew
  1. I was molested by multiple boys in my neighborhood in early grade school. My twin brother was involved in one incident in which he told me to go look into a tent in the back yard of a neighbor where we often played; then he returned later and was asked if he wanted “to do it, too.” The consequences of this abuse are intertwined with the consequences of being a sister to a sick twin brother when the family learned that he had a heart problem. He needed experimental surgery that provided a 50-50 chance of living when we were in the second grade. I have felt that I became persona non grata at this point as everything about my behavior was interpreted as jealousy of my sick brother. I later realized that all things were typical reactions to abuse. I faded into the background, became accustomed to everyone seeing him and not me, retreated into a fantasy world built around the pop and rock music of the day and daydreaming of huge successes and larger-than-life positive impact as an adult. I found my solace in good grades and school leadership. On the surface I looked like the successful kid with nothing wrong because I wasn’t acting out in any way. in fact I was a goody two-shoes. No one understood what sorts of pain that level of striving can cover up. I did well in school until I met a man in drag in the women’s bathroom across from the suite where my office was in a post-doctoral program. A man in drag had committed a series of rapes on campus in the spring and summer before I went there. I began having flashbacks and remembered the incident with my brother and details of the molestation that I hadn’t had in my mind’s eye for years. I basically had a nervous breakdown, was forced to leave the program, and never regained the promising career path I fell off of at this point. I did eventually get another couple jobs in my field but both were disasters. I seemed incapable of responding to landmines even though I had inklings they were there. I decided to fight unethical and gender-biased behavior in the second job and paid through the nose for it; I won my tenured full professorship but it was a Pyrrhic victory for me. I spent the whole 12 years I was there coping like the cartoon character that has stepped onto ice and can’t get a footing. Emotionally, physically, and interpersonally this whole time was like a drubbing on a washboard at the river’s edge. I had spent decades of my life feeling unwanted and just decided to tie a knot and hang on this time. Deciding to “make this work” and refusing to let go of something that probably should have been let go of at the end of the third week of my first term there sucked out my soul. I did leave there and tried to start some web-based businesses but learned that I am, indeed, a learner and not a practitioner. I eventually took another academic position making more money than before and found some feelings of self-worth and accomplishment there. But, I never felt that I had a clear and secure perception of my strengths and weaknesses; the good times were never enough to fill my sense of worthlessness and invisibility and the lesser times always were proof that I was a failure. I always believed that my family knew about the molestation; I can recall 4-5 conversations or comments that told me as a child that they knew. However, in therapy in my early 40s, I mailed a letter to my mother asking her if she knew. She denied knowing and said that these recollections were “dreams of a guilty child.” It just reinforced my feeling that they blamed me even if it didn’t confirm my recollections. I was groomed for the abuse by a female classmate’s brother who told me that it was a “game” and the he “wouldn’t hurt me.” Oh, if I could count the times I complained about my twin brother’s infringing on my personal boundaries only to have my mother exclaim “he’s not hurting you!” This standard of putting up with noxious stimuli from others because they “weren’t hurting me” is a characteristic of my life and has contributed to my pattern of social avoidance and semi-isolation. I learned as a child that I couldn’t be angry about anything and just decided that my standards were inappropriate. Other family dynamics surrounding my mother taking her newborn twins home to my maternal grandparents’ home, which is where we grew up add a layer of feelings that has complicated my life. Being the only one who went beyond high school and the only one to reject the family patterns made me a real outsider. I didn’t have what it took to feel comfortable in my academic surroundings and I didn’t fit into the family; I have lived my life feeling rather untethered. Well, enough of my rambling…I am retired and attempting to develop a book about the career issues of abuse survivors. I find a lot of information about relationship consequences, physical complaints, and emotional issues such as depression; but I would be interested in more research specifically related to the thought patterns and decision patterns of abuse survivors that have positive or negative affects on their career trajectories.

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