Lindsay and Alex knew each other since birth. Their parents had gone to the same college, and had continued to spend most of their free time together as they began their families, along with their siblings – weekends, holidays, even family vacations. Alex was two years older than Lindsay, and she had come to think of him as a big brother. On a weekend trip to their lake house when she was twelve, he fondled her breasts. She was scared and confused, but wasn’t sure what to think about what had happened. The next trip he did it again, and though it bothered her, she felt like she couldn’t tell anyone about it. This continued, and even grew progressively worse for Lindsay. Now, in her twenties, she found herself still bothered by these memories. Last week, she had a fight with her dad because he didn’t understand why she would never join them on family trips to the lake. She hated to hurt his feelings, but being there made her feel sick. She wanted him to understand her feelings, but couldn’t imagine talking about it with him – or anyone.
Andrew was known as a ladies man. Sleeping with women had always felt like a game to him, and he was constantly focused on increasing his number of conquests. He didn’t know why he was more sexually driven than his friends, but thought it probably had something to do with his babysitter growing up. He’d had his first sexual experience with her, though he’d never told anyone about it.
Nick was Uncle Jim’s favorite. As a child, Uncle Jim always took him out for birthdays, when he brought home a good report card, or won a baseball game. He made Nick feel special. When he graduated from middle school, Uncle Jim invited him over for pizza and bought him a new video game. Nick felt like one of the grown ups when Uncle Jim opened a beer for him. In the middle of the night he woke up to Uncle Jim touching him, and he wasn’t sure how to feel about it. For some reason, he felt yucky about it.
Megan had trouble letting people get close to her. She had noticed that she needed more personal space than most of her friends, and always had to hide her discomfort when her friends hugged her or even put their arm around her in pictures. She especially had trouble dating. She had gone out on many first dates, but always said she didn’t think they were right for her, even when it wasn’t the truth. She couldn’t exactly remember what had happened that made her feel like this, but she knew it had been bad.
Sam had grown up in a very devout family, and always enjoyed the ritual and majesty of faith and spiritual practice. As a teenager, she was very involved in her church. One afternoon, something happened with one of the ministers that made Sam feel ashamed and deeply uncomfortable. Ten years had passed, but she found she had a hard time thinking of God, religion, or even her own prayer, without thinking about what had happened.
Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, and abusers can be people you know — even those you trust.
As much as we may not want to believe it, sexual abuse occurs in Nashville more often than one might expect. It’s estimated that by the time they are eighteen years old, sexual abuse has occurred in 20% to 40% of females and 2% to 9% of males. Because so many incidences of abuse are not reported, it’s believed that these estimates are conservative.
What is sexual abuse?
The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.” For children, sexual abuse involves any kind of sexual behavior directed towards a child. Often, abuse includes a use of power over another and betrayal, specifically of trust.
Particularly during childhood, defining sexual abuse may be confusing as it often occurs between children near in age. The main indicator is a difference in power. The difference of both insight and maturity between someone who is 15 years old and 12 years old is significant. The elder has experienced significant developmental gains including physiologically, emotionally, and socially – creating a significant advantage over the younger.
Generally, abuse is considered sexual if physical contact occurs — though this is not to say that some forms of emotional abuse are not sexual in nature — they can be. But a more traditional definition of sexual abuse may include (but not be limited to) fondling, masturbation, intercourse (vaginal or anal), oral sex, or penetration (vaginal or anal) with foreign objects. Sometimes, sexual abuse doesn’t include physical contact, though it can still be experienced as a violation. These cases may include exposure to pornography, leering, sexual suggestiveness, or exhibitionism.
Sexual abuse usually happens by people we know, even like or love. As frightening and shocking as this may be, we know that most cases of sexual abuse of children (that have been reported) are committed by someone the child trusts, such as friends or family members. Abusers are usually in positions of authority or power and can include: siblings, mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-parents, cousins, babysitters, doctors, teachers, clergy, neighbors, and others close to the child/family.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual abuse, please contact our Nashville sexual abuse counselors at (615) 601-1165 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We are a safe place!
The effects of sexual abuse.
Unfortunately, the impacts of sexual abuse don’t stop when the abuse ends. Long-lasting effects may include:
- Feelings of “being dirty” or shame
- Lack of self-care and compassion
- A need to be perfect
- Low self-esteem or self-worth
- Difficulty recognizing feelings
- Feeling numb
- Feeling “out of control” or a need to have control
- Feeling disconnected from your body
- Difficulty with intimacy or pleasure
- Trouble trusting other people
- Anxiety or panic
- Negative feelings or shame about your body
- Feelings of loneliness or isolation
- Trouble making commitments
- Discomfort with physical or emotional closeness
- Dating those similar (or who remind you of) your abuser or are otherwise unhealthy
- An expectation that people will leave you
- Flashbacks (especially during sexual contact)
- Avoiding sex
- Reliving parts of your sexual trauma through your current sex life
- Having sex that you don’t really want
- Feeling numb or disconnected during sexual contact
- Use of sex to meet non-sexual needs
How do I know if I’ve experienced sexual abuse?
If you’ve had a memory of sexual abuse, even if it’s “fuzzy,” it’s most likely best to trust it. Fuzzy memories of sexual abuse are common, especially abuse that occurs in childhood. Repression (forgetting something difficult happened) is common in incidences of sexual abuse. Even in cases such as this, those who’ve experienced abuse may be triggered by present experiences. Triggers might include words, smells, tastes, facial expressions, touches, sounds, and others. When triggered, it’s common to feel sick, scared, panicked, or despair.
Why do I need sexual abuse counseling? Can’t I just let it go?
Sexual abuse and trauma is frightening, painful, confusing, and often leaves those who have been abused feeling a great deal of shame. These feelings make it easy to understand why someone might not want to talk about it – even remember it. The urge to just “let it go and move on” is an understandable one, because the thought of acknowledging what happened can be so frightening. However, not addressing sexual abuse usually only makes it worse. When we refuse to discuss it (or anything for that matter), we also refuse to acknowledge the parts of our current self — including our values, habits, beliefs, and more — that were impacted by it.
Talking about sexual abuse with a Nashville Change, Inc. counselor doesn’t make what happened more or less true. Instead, talking about it creates a space for healing.
Some healthy tips you can try on your own:
- Treat yourself with compassion. While you may have spent years telling yourself this was “no big deal,” the reality is that it can be really difficult. As you move forward, try to remember that feeling this way is not a reflection of weakness. Having a reaction to abuse is normal. One of the strongest and kindest things we can do for ourselves is to learn to acknowledge and honor what we feel and what we need.
- Find the support that you need. Seek out relationships where you feel validated and accepted, and avoid those who pressure you to “get over it.” Family and friends are a great start when it comes to support, but trained professionals or support groups are usually the best next step in really moving forward.
- Know that you can and will heal from this. While the abuse will always be part of your story, it doesn’t have to cause continuous suffering or pain, define who you are now, or who you will be in the future. You can heal over time with the right help.
Need some guidance with all of these? We can help!
Looking for help with sexual abuse or incest counseling in Nashville?
Get your life back today! Start by making this simple call.
We can schedule you immediately!
Nervous about calling? Email us at email@example.com!
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services
Report Sexual Abuse Hotline: 877-237-0004
Nashville Sexual Assault Center
Crisis & Support Line: 1-800-879-1999
Our Kids Center — For Children and Families Affected by Sexual Abuse:
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)
Survivors of Incest Anonymous
World Service Office
P.O. Box 190
Benson, MD 21018
Phone: (419) 893-3322
National Children’s Advocacy Center
210 Pratt Avenue
Huntsville, AL 35801
Phone: (256) 533-KIDS (256-533-5437)
Fax: (256) 534-6883
Prevent Child Abuse America
500 South Michigan Avenue Suite 200
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: (312) 663-3520
Fax: (312) 939-8962
National Council on Child Abuse & Family Violence
1025 Connecticut Avenue, Suite #1000
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 429-6695
National Center for Victims of Crime
2000 M Street, NW, Suite 480
Washington, DC 20036
Toll-free Helpline: 1-800-FYI-CALL
Monday-Friday, 8:30 am – 8:30 pm ET