Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse
If you’re an adult who experienced sexual abuse as a child, know that you are not alone. In the U.S., 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 181, and 93% know the perpetrator2. Many perpetrators of sexual abuse are in a position of trust or responsible for the child’s care, such as a family member, teacher, clergy member, or coach.
No matter what, the abuse was not your fault. It’s never too late to start healing from this experience.
What are the effects of child sexual abuse for adults?
If you experienced sexual abuse as a child, you may encounter a range of short- and long-term effects that many survivors face. Adult survivors of child sexual abuse may have some of the following concerns that are specific to their experience:
- Guilt, shame, and blame. You might feel guilty about not having been able to stop the abuse, or even blame yourself if you experienced physical pleasure. It is important for you to understand that it was the person that hurt you that should be held accountable—not you.
- Self-esteem. You may struggle with low self-esteem, which can be a result of the negative messages you received from your abuser(s), and from having your personal safety violated or ignored. Low self-esteem can affect many different areas of your life such as your relationships, your career, and even your health.
- Intimacy and relationships. It’s possible that your first experiences with sex came as a result of sexual abuse. As an adult, intimacy might be a struggle at times. Some survivors experience flashbacks or painful memories while engaging in sexual activity, even though it is consensual and on their own terms. Survivors may also struggle to set boundaries that help them feel safe in relationships.
Why do I still feel this way?
As an adult survivor, you have been living with these memories for a long time. Some survivors keep the abuse a secret for many years. They may have tried to tell an adult and met with resistance or felt there was no one they could trust. For these reasons and many others, the effects of sexual abuse can occur many years after the abuse has ended. Remember that there is no set timeline for dealing with and recovering from this experience.
How should I react when someone tells me they were sexually abused?
It can be difficult to hear that someone you care about suffered sexual abuse as a child. Your reaction can have a big impact on the survivor, but it isn’t always easy to know what to say. Learn more about how to respond to a survivor and self-care tips for friends and family.
RAINN partners with 1in6, an organization that helps men who experienced unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood to live healthier, happier lives. Check out their resources for family and friends to learn more about supporting a man who has experienced unwanted or abusive sexual experiences.
To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.
1. U.S Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sex Offenses and Offenders. 1997.
2. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement. 2000.