Child sexual abuse, or incest, is one of the most insidious types of violence perpetrated on innocent children. Sadly, the statistics bear this out: *
- One in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.
- 82% of all victims under 18 are female.
- Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
The effects of child sexual abuse can be long-lasting and affect the victim’s mental health. Victims are more likely than non-victims to experience the following mental health challenges:
- About 4 times more likely to develop symptoms of drug abuse
- About 4 times more likely to experience PTSD as adults
- About 3 times more likely to experience a major depressive episode as adults
While we are teaching children to be wary of strangers, no one wants to believe that many are abused by family members and friends:
Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse Are Often Related to the Victim
Sometimes, so young that they have no memory of it. Yet, abuse impacts everything in their lves — sex, relationships, work, physical and mental health — and they don’t know why!
Sometimes, so young that they have no way to defend themselves, let alone understand what is happening to them.
This is what happened to me. I blocked out all memory of this abuse. While it is personal, my story starts with my professional life. Within a year into my private clinical psychotherapy practice, something unusual happened. I was in my forties and it was in the mid-’80s. Within a two-week period, 20 new clients arrived on my doorstep. Every one of them was a survivor of child sexual abuse. Simultaneously, clients who had been with me for more than a year were starting to have nightmares and flashbacks about being sexually abused.
I quickly discovered that traditional talk therapy helped only to a certain extent. Sharing their stories helped them initially to get in touch with their repressed feelings. Sadly, I found that continual repetition of their stories was actually keeping them stuck. They felt little or no relief from their anguish.
There was no formal training in this field at this time. Flashbacks and nightmares of this kind were attributed mainly to veterans of war, specifically those returning from Vietnam. We now know these symptoms as post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD.
Intuitively, I started to teach them meditation. It calmed them down enough to share their story with me. I developed a process by which I held their hand and continued to reassure them that they were safe, that they were strong enough to let their feelings surface, that they were not alone, and that they could come out at any time or wait for me to bring them out. Knowing that they were in charge of their own healing gave them back the power that was stripped from them during the abuse. I held their hands as they cried out their anger, their terrors, their pain.**
When they finished, they felt a sense of calm, many for the first time.
I deduced that they were able to lower their defenses while in a meditative calm state, in a safe environment, and with constant reassurance that they were in control.
For the first time, they were able to re-engage with feelings that were frozen so that they could survive. They began the process of trusting another and themselves.
You’re probably wondering what all this had to do with me! I wondered the same thing. When I meditated on this, I remembered my sister telling me years ago that a family member had molested her. I asked myself the dreaded question, “Was I molested, too?”
Tune in to the next post.
* RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) – statistics
**Disclaimer: Do not use this procedure unless you are professionally trained as a skilled trauma-based therapist.