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Child Sexual Abuse - The Dark Secret

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

The thought that an adult could use a child to satisfy their sexual gratification seems abhorrent to us.

It's one of the most distressing things I hear about from clients who trust me enough to share what they consider a deep dark secret. Not only was part of that childhood stolen from them, but the effects often continue throughout their life, affecting many aspects of their lives, including relationships. I cannot comprehend who and adult, whose responsibility was to protect them used that innocent child to satisfy their perverted sexual needs and desires. Causing untold damage by their actions.

Office of National Statistics figures

  • The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated that 7.5% of adults aged 18 to 74 years experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16 years (3.1 million people); this includes both adult and child perpetrators.

  • The abuse was most likely to have been perpetrated by a friend or acquaintance (37%); around a third (30%) were sexually abused by a stranger.

  • In the year ending March 2019, the police in England and Wales recorded 73,260 sexual offences where there are data to identify the victim was a child.

  • At 31 March 2019, 2,230 children in England were the subject of a child protection plan (CPP) and 120 children in Wales were on the child protection register (CPR) for experience or risk of sexual abuse.

  • Sexual abuse has become the most common type of abuse counselled by Childline in recent years; it was also the most commonly reported type of abuse by adults calling the National Association for People Abused in Childhood’s (NAPAC’s) helpline in the year ending March 2019.

The abuser grooms the child

The abuser offers and providing rewards the child may otherwise not receive. Treats, such as days out, a new bike, love, and affection (in a very distorted way). But that small innocent child has no idea of the devious ways of their abuser. The abuser may start by touching the child inappropriately, which may be perceived as an accident. But then it will escalate, and by that time the child is too frightened to tell anyone. Often because they think they will be blamed for allowing those ‘accidental’ gestures. If the child protests, they are told they are to blame by their abuser. They are persuaded, bullied, or threatened not to tell anyone. Many times the abuse is often accompanied by physical, and emotional abuse together with neglect.

Shame and guilt that part of them experienced pleasure and enjoyment

Clients often tell me that they are shamed by the fact that part of them felt enjoyment or pleasure. But that pleasure was about being paid attention, in the belief the abuser really cared about them. It may also have felt sexual pleasure, and feel deep shame about that. What they don’t realise is that sexual arousal is a natural process in our bodies and that our bodies are created to respond to stimulation. When we are touched sexually, our whole physiology is designed to give us pleasure. These are natural bodily reactions over which we do not have control.

But as they don’t have that knowledge, they mistakenly believe it was their fault, and they carry the shame and guilt around with them for many years.

Dark secrets untold for years

They often carry those secrets with them for many years - well into adulthood. Secrets they feel are too shameful to share with anyone for fear of being judged. They risk losing someone in their life they care about, They fear that feeling of being emotionally exposed and vulnerable, Concerned that if they open up, it could be used as a weapon against them. Just as their abuser did when they were a child.

But by keeping it a secret, their abuser continues to have power over them.

This heinous crime can have such devasting effects on the victim/ survivor as they grapple to make some kind of sense of what happened.

Plucking up courage to tell

If they plucked up the courage to tell someone what happened when they were a child, they were often dismissed and told they were lying. The adult they shared it with not wanting to admit to themselves that their partner, sibling, parent, or close friend would do anything like that. They may well worry about the effect it will have on their lives, and the disruption, and negative impact it will cause. So instead, they choose to dismiss the child.

Threats by the abuser are common

Maybe that child couldn’t tell anyone because they were threatened by their abuser. At other times they may feel a need to protect others in their family, worried about upsetting them, protecting them from hearing what's happening.. Sometimes the child will offer themselves to their abuser in an attempt to stop them abuser abusing their sibling.

They can't trust easily

Their world isn’t safe. They can’t trust easily because someone in authority whose responsibility is was to protect them, broke the boundaries, and let them down. They often balk against authority, and it's understandable when you consider someone in authority broke their trust.

Effects in Adulthood

Their boundaries are often misplaced. They either close down completely, not allowing anyone into their lives, or they become promiscuous, mistaking sex for love. Often they don’t value their bodies, because their abuser used them as a commodity, just a means to gratify them..

Romantic Relationships

Romantic relationships can be damaged because of the abuse. Controlling behaviour is common, because they are fearful of losing that person, or because they need to find ways of controlling the parts of their life they think they can.

Mistrust is commonplace. They are hypervigilant, and can often look for what they perceive is a change in behaviour or appearance, the way their partner dresses. Worried their partner may attract attention that leads to rape. They often accuse their partner of cheating, fearful of losing their partner.

Intimacy and sex can be difficult for someone who has experienced childhood sexual abuse. Especially as there can be many triggers relating to certain areas of the body. They may not like being touched in a certain place, or certain actions, or words can trigger them. Not only is it difficult for the sufferer, but also for their partner too, who have no comprehension of why something that happened so long ago, can continue to affect their partner now.

Allowing themselves to be truly close, intimate and vulnerable can feel very difficult, which is often related to trust issues, but it maybe because they are holding a deep dark secret that they cannot share even with the closest person to them. They feel a need to keep a distance and not allow themselves to completely let go. Or that they are living a lie because of the secret they hold.

Panic and Anxiety Attacks

Triggers can be smells, taste, touch, a word, phrase, gesture, or if someone they see reminder then of their abuser. Aftershave, perfume, soaps, certain foods, even colours can trigger flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks, which can be terryifing, and can occur in some cases several times a day.

Anxiety and panic attacks occur when the Survival System is activated. That system has no reasoning power, it reacts only to danger or perceived danger. Certain hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released, the heart rate speeds up to pump oxygenated blood to the muscles, and providing the body with a burst of energy and strength ready to run or fight. or run away when faced with danger. When the danger or perceived threat is gone, systems are designed to return to normal levels. But in cases of acute stress, those levels don’t return to their normal ‘resting’ levels or they are activated very easily and especially when the body is triggered as mentioned above.

A small child is likely to feel on edge and has learned to be hypervigilant because they are unsure when abuse may happen again, and that hypervigilance can continue into adulthood, meaning they are likely to behave in a way that others perceive as overreacting.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) Formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder

In extreme cases of abuse, the victim/survivor may suffer from something called Dissociative Identity Disorder,(DID) formerly referred to as multiple personality disorder. This is where the person’s identity is fragmenting into two or more distinct personality states, and the brain has developed this strategy to cope with the abuse. Some take on ‘Alters’ ( or personalities) of two or more personalities, and I have read of an extreme case of a woman who has 2500 personalities. But I would stress that is an extreme case.

Ritual Abuse

There are practices that the abuser (or group) subjects the child to, which add to the abuser's pleasure, but demeans the child. Ritual abuse involves children in physical, psychological, or sexual abuse associated with repeated activities that purport to relate the abuse to contexts of a religious, magical, supernatural, medical or cultural kind.

How Talking Therapies Can Help

Talking therapies is one of the ways in which someone can learn to heal, but people are worried they will have to relive the trauma by telling the therapist about it, I want to reassure you all, that a therapist who is trained and experienced in Childhood Sexual Abuse will never encourage or force anyone to share the incidents, as they are only too aware of the damage retraumatising will cause. It doesn’t help the person to heal, the healing takes places without that. So, it’s important to work with a therapist who has trained in this area.


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