Childhood sexual abuse is more common than we think. Perpetrators are more commonly family members, siblings, close relatives, someone the child trusts or looks up to, rather than strangers.
In a research article published in the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse in 2015, Zeglin, DeRaedt, and Lanthier reported, 1 in 5 girls have experienced childhood sexual abuse1.
93% are known to victims2. That means, around 7% are harmed by strangers.
Stigma, shame, complex familial dynamics prevent survivors from reporting, voicing their pain, and ultimately receiving help.
I find myself contemplating whether I should share this or not, but perhaps it is time. I find myself contemplating whether I should share this or not, but perhaps it is time. To feel the empowerment that comes from voicing my story, and to humanize therapists as people, with lived experiences, of trauma, marginalization, racism, etc. For me, it is about being authentic in my personal and professional lives, and normalizing struggles as part of life.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a family member, I can attest to this. These traumatic events not only impact survivors in those moments, but carry the power to change them for the rest of their lives. Without healing, and support, the roots of shame, disconnection, fears, can weigh the survivor down.
The path to healing is more complex, sometimes more challenging, for survivors whose perpetrators are family members rather than strangers, as the familial ties, relationships add layers of complexities to even voicing the trauma and beginning the healing process. Add the stigma and shame, the survivor not only has to live with the horrific trauma, but also carry the burden of this secret alone, for fears of dismantling the ‘family unit’ and impacting the relationships within the unit. This heavy weight leads to feelings of isolation, and disconnection, particularly from ‘family’ and ‘home’ – places that are meant to provide safety and comfort. These places become tarnished forever. I no longer wish to ‘protect’ my abuser, nor what is ‘family’ by carrying this burden alone.
I cannot stress the importance of creating safe spaces for an open and transparent conversation, free of guilt and shame. I share my story to hopefully encourage someone else to voice theirs, to end their silence. to feel they are not alone. The more stories are shared, the easier it becomes for survivors to know it is okay to bravely come forward, end their silences, voice their stories, and hopefully bring healing, peace and solace within.
- Zeglin, RJ., DeRaedt, MR., & Lanthier, RP. 2015. Does Having Children Moderate the Effect of Child Sexual Abuse on Depression? Journal of Childhood Sexual Abuse. 24(6):607-26. doi: 10.1080/10538712.2015.1057664