Self Help - Abuse

You witnessed my 4Sight at Gateshead which is a moving experience of various challenges in my life. You then gave me very helpful feedback, support and advice so when you saw it again at Durham it was sharper, more direct and i was in control. thank you very much helping to remove the barriers.

Mike McCoy

Understanding and Surviving Sexual Abuse

What Is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is a term that refers to a wide range of experiences that are sexual in nature and can be very upsetting and confusing for the person being abused.

Over the last 20 years it has been recognized just how common it is for people to have experienced some form of sexual abuse during their lives. Surveys that have been carried out suggest that up to a third of all women have experienced such abuse during their childhood. Sexual abuse can be emotionally damaging for the people involved and the effects of it tend to be worse if the abuse was severe and went on over a long period of time.

Although children are told to beware of strangers, abusers are more likely to be someone who the child knows and trusts.

How Is It Emotionally Damaging?

Children’s minds are not emotionally ready to understand or cope with sexual relationships. Yet their bodies will feel things if stimulated or hurt. When an adult sexually stimulates a child, or makes them involved in sexual behaviour then the adult is betraying a basic trust that children place in them.

Sadly, people who abuse children are often in positions of trust and the betrayal of this trust can mean that it is very difficult for the child to know who they can safely turn to for help. There are many ways in which people may react after they have been abused. They may feel dirty, ashamed or guilty. When the child knows that it was wrong for the person to abuse them they may be angry or full of rage.

Emotional Blackmail

Unfortunately, one of the common things that happens when a child is sexually abused is that they are also emotionally blackmailed. They might be made to feel responsible for the abuse having taken place or frightened into thinking that something awful will happen if they tell anyone.

Typical threats may include the child being told that they will get into trouble or be sent away if anyone finds out. At other times the blackmail is more subtle and the abuser might tell the child that they are “special” or that the abuser loves them a lot, reinforcing this by buying them things or treating them as a favourite within the family. This can leave the child feeling, frightened, hurt and confused.

Determined abusers may play on a child’s innocence by trying to introduce them gradually to sexual experiences in the hope that they will not realise that this is wrong. The child may be told that they are just being shown what all grown up people do. Often it is only when children have a chance to see what happens in a “normal” family that they begin to realise that what they have experienced is wrong.

Guilt And Anger

Whether a survivor of abuse is left feeling guilty or angry tends to depend on whether they blame themselves for what happened. If they have been made to feel it was their fault then they will tend to feel guilty and ashamed, their lives may be dogged by self doubt and feeling unworthy or unlovable.

If, however, it was clear to the child that it was not their fault then it is more likely that the child will feel angry and not find it easy to trust other people, particularly if they remind them of the abuser by the way they look or behave.

Traumatic Effects Of Abuse

Being abused can be traumatic:

  • When a situation is unbearable people try and find ways of blocking it out. However, unwanted thoughts and memories can come back;
  • Sleep can be disturbed by dreams or nightmares about the abuse;
  • Memories that come back can be extremely vivid and intrude into a persons thoughts. At times it can feel as though the abuse is being relived, which can, naturally, be very distressing;
  • Flashbacks to traumatic memories can be triggered by similar events or situations. These triggers can be certain sounds, smells, bodily feelings, indeed anything that was associated with the abuse;
  • Victims of abuse report hearing or seeing the abuser when they are not there.

It is little wonder that children often end up feeling extremely guilty and harbour the secret of their abuse for years.

Complex Abuse

To experience abuse repeatedly, can be particularly difficult to cope with and a deep sense of hopelessness can develop.

Determined abusers may abuse people in perverse ways, involving other people, animals, objects and rituals. These nastier forms of abuse can be intensely humiliating and frightening and people may think no one would ever believe them if they spoke about it. Abusers may deliberately play on this in order to stop the person speaking out. Tragically, the very people most in need of help may feel the least able to seek it.

Seeking Help

The very nature of sexual abuse means that it is not easy for people to talk about. It is important that people feel free to tackle things at their own pace and feel safe while they do so. If you want to know more about overcoming the effects of sexual abuse there are various agencies that offer confidential help and support.

Be Positive

Often people can find it helpful to learn of other's experiences and realise that they are not on their own. Whilst this can be upsetting it can also be very therapeutic. Direct support can be obtained over the phone and can be anonymous and confidential or you might wish to contact a local group or agency, some details are provided at the end of this leaflet. People can and do get over the effects of abuse.

Sexual Abuse Further Reading


Breaking Free
Carolyn Ainscough & Kay Toon

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Survivor Guide
Sharice A Lee

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Toxic Parents
Susan Forward

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