What is the Nature of the Trauma from Child Sexual Abuse?
Brent, one thing I talked about in my presentation was research that I had found most surprising. Some researchers found (also to their surprise), that nonviolent sexual abuse of small children is not necessarily traumatic at the time, because of their limited understanding of sexuality and the apparently positive relationship with the abuser. The research showed that, although children felt somewhat uneasy about the situation, and as if something was “wrong,” it was partially a pleasant experience as well. What would happen is later, when they were old enough to comprehend the enormity of the betrayal and the sexual violation, the abuse became much more traumatic. How the person was able to deal with it at that time depended on a number of factors, including their overall resilience, emotional health, and support.
I believe this research dealt primarily with children whose abuse was not identified, so that no one helped them before the major sense of trauma hit. But that is not always the case.
We appear to have a window of time in which to care for and heal children before their lives are ravaged by the sexual abuse they experienced. After the talk, I had a chat with Becky Leverington about her view on how children react to abuse. She pointed out that providing therapy for children right away, once the abuse is known, is very beneficial. Although they may seem pretty normal, the therapy helps them work through the issues, and hopefully this forestalls the deep sense of trauma in later years.
It seems another reason for organizations to address these issues promptly and adequately may be to provide help for children before they feel devastated. What is your clinical experience on this issue?
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