Were You Sexually Abused As a Child?

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson
It’s estimated that for each case of child sexual abuse that is reported in the UK, a further eight are not.

Too many of us suffer in silence, growing up into adults who suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and relationship difficulties.

And with the latest legal definitions of what child sexual abuse (CSA) is and isn't, you might need to rethink what happened to you in your childhood.

Was it really sexual abuse?

The legal definition of child sexual abuse can vary by country. But the new updated version in the United Kingdom has widened the list of what now qualifies as childhood sexual abuse.

Old definitions of CSA were limited to the physical harm the child suffered. But it is now recognised that sexual abuse is also mental, emotional, and physiological.

In fact it doesn't have to involve physical touch at all to be sexual abuse but can be what is now termed ‘non contact abuse’.

Child sexual abuse is now seen as anyone of the age of 16 or under being persuaded, asked, or forced to engage in sexual activities of any kind, whether or not physical touch is involved. Even if a perpetrator never meets a child but makes sexual remarks over the phone or internet, it is abuse. And it is abuse whether the perpetrator is a man, woman, adolescent, or other child.

Non-contact child sexual abuse

There are many ways a child can be sexually abused without physical contact, including being asked to:

  • look at sexual images
  • undress
  • see sexual body parts
  • listen to sexual activity
  • take photos of their body
  • act in sexual ways.

It is also abuse to:

  • groom a child over the internet or in person
  • direct sexual language at a child
  • not take appropriate action to stop a child being exposed to sexual activity.

But it happened so long ago....

Child sexual abuse and its effects do not follow a timeline or have an expiry date.

When we experience sexual abuse our brain registers a trauma and it adjusts accordingly. Unfortunately, this means that most victims of sexual abuse spend their lives with signs of post-traumatic shock.

Symptoms can include the anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem mentioned above. Other symptoms can be sleep problems, addictions, intimacy issues, sexual problems, a sense of always being in danger, and feeling edgy and jumpy all the time.

Therapy can and does help with these symptoms, even if your abuse happened decades ago.

I need help with child sexual abuse

If you are aged 16 or under and are experiencing sexual abuse, please reach out for help by calling Childline at 0800 1111.

If you are a parent who is worried your child is being abused, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has a 24/7 hotline here in the UK 0808 800 5000. You can also contact the local police or child services.

If you are an adult who is worried about your own thoughts and actions towards children there is a free confidential hotline provided by charity ‘Stop it Now’ that is available 9am to 9pm Mon- Thurs and 9am - 5pm on Fridays 0808 1000 900. 

Do you worry you were abused as a child? And it is the reason you can’t get ahead in life, or ever feel good about yourself? Our counsellors and therapists are here to listen and help. Book today, be talking to someone who understands as soon as tomorrow.

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