How do you survive sexual abuse? How do you even make the first step into a therapists office and tell what happened? What if you never reported it? What if no one knows?
Sexual abuse is a topic I am very familiar with, as a professional and I have spent over a decade working with clients who have dealt with this. Sexual abuse can come in many forms: A. prostitution; B.boyfriend/husband/partner; C. rape (including date rape); D. sexual molest by a family member or friend of family (i.e., being taken advantage of sexually while you are a child; E. sexual harassment on the job; E. any time someone expects sex from you that is unwanted.
I break this down into different categories because women often think of it in various ways. Sometimes I have to ask all of the above, during an intake when I am pretty sure a woman has dealt with some form of sexual abuse. Why do I do this? Because if the client knows I know, then this is half the battle. Also, when they say yes, I have an empathic talk with them about sexual abuse. This helps them to understand that I am a person they can talk to and that we will be going at their pace. I also share that I worked with Children’s Protective Services for eight years in a very dangerous neighborhood. I explain that nothing they are going to say is really shocking to me but I still find myself surprised by the details. If a survivor feels that you can handle their story, they are more apt to share it.
Survivors and early stage victims will immediately blame themself for the incident (s). Often I will hear, “Well I am not sure if you would really call it sexual abuse.” My comment will then be “Did you want to have it happen?” and they will say, “Well No,” and then I will say “Would you want this to happen to your daughter or son?” and the response is usually “Hell No!” This means it is sexual abuse. If you don’t want your child to go through this or you did not want it to happen – it was not consensual. Not agreed upon sex acts or touching is sexual abuse.
It is important to work with someone who is comfortable with and has experience in dealing with sexual abuse. If it was same-sex abuse than that is up to the survivor, whom they feel comfortable with gender wise. I’ve noticed that people often still prefer same-sex therapist. With boys/guys it can be different. Often boys/men still prefer a woman. This usually has to do with whom they feel they can identify with more. It also has to do with how comfortable they are with their own sex (as a result of the sexual abuse).
Of course many times sexual abuse survivors don’t come in planning to discuss their past. They don’t think about it when they are looking up therapists. However, when they see therapists who say “work with sexual abuse survivors,” this tends to be kept in the back of their mind when choosing.
It is important to seek counseling if you have been sexually abused. Why? Because most likely it has occurred more than once. The potential for it to happen again is greater until we begin to work on healing from past sexual trauma. This does NOT mean you are making it happen or that it is your fault. Sometimes survivors unconsciously feel they deserve it – not good enough. They attract bad partners into their lives who continue to abuse and manipulate. If not through a partner (although it most generally is) it can be through an abusive work relationship, friend or family members who continue to take advantage of.
Sexual abuse is a horrible thing to have happen to a person. It destroys your life until you decide that you want help. Even once you get help, you have to be committed to it as it takes time to heal these wounds.
Sexual abuse more often than not is UNREPORTED. If I had to wager a guess, I’d say about 90% of the time. Obviously when I worked for Children’s Protective Services it was reported 100% of the time. Now that I am a psychotherapist, I am hearing stories from adult survivors. I am hearing about rapes that have occurred outside of time frames. I am hearing from women who have already left the partner. I am here in Ohio where people are raised in small areas and CPS was not and still isn’t up to par with how I was trained in California. I am often shocked that even when it is reported how the police, social workers and other professionals have behaved. Often it is unsympathetic. Often the push here is to stick the perpetrator back with the children ($$). The laws here to protect women are pretty ridiculous as well and do not seem designed to help or empathize. The community law groups are not as passionate as the attorneys I worked with out west either. This is what shocks me more than anything with women who are abused. Not their stories but how professionals treat them. This is why cases are UNREPORTED. Who wants to be humiliated?
You can expect to be treated with respect by a psychotherapist though. I think I can be bold enough to say this, even here as I have met many of my colleagues. Whether something is reported or not, it is imperative that you speak to a caring professional. Even when you can not trust anyone else or the system, a psychotherapist is the safest option for reporting abuse and discussing it with someone. We cannot make the safety officers do their job but we can help you to start a new life. The most important matter here is YOU.