Did you know that most sexual abuse is not reported or detected? Even when it is, very few result in prosecution. Due to their vulnerability and innocence, some children are even unaware that they are being sexually abused, particularly if they have been cleverly groomed. Many people who have been subjected to sexual abuse often supress their feelings and traumatic memories.
Anna (@mindfulanna_) has bravely shared her story with us on how childhood sexual abuse had a huge impact on her life.
“In my childhood, I had two traumatic experiences. I lost my Dad to suicide when I was 6 years old. Suicide was hardly spoken about in 2002 and there was still a massive stigma attached to it. I used to feel embarrassed telling people how my Dad died. I remember feeling very confused as to why and there were many unanswered questions. Then when I was 8 years old, I was subjected to child sexual abuse by a family member; someone a few years older than me and someone I trusted.”
There is usually already some form of relationship between the child and the perpetrator whether it a family member or a friend. It is predicted that around 90% of victims know their abuser. Normally, the abuse is premeditated and carefully planned so the abuser has access to unsupervised time with the child. This is often how grooming begins.
“The abuse went on for 2 years and during this time I was so easily manipulated into it. He groomed me in a very clever way. When it stopped, he told me not to tell anyone.”
According to the NSPCC website, the abuser will often make the victim believe that they have a genuine relationship and, along with an already gained respect and trust, are able to cleverly control their victim.
Unfortunately for Anna, years of bottling this huge burden and childhood secret caused her to have a breakdown.
“I held it a secret for years until I eventually had a breakdown in March 2020. The sexual abuse I suffered as a child didn’t impact my life until I was 24. I completely blocked it out until then.”
It is projected that approximately 1 in 3 children who have been subjected to sexual abuse do not tell anyone about it at the time with many keeping it a secret their entire life.
When Anna did come to discuss her abuse with someone, she quickly recognised how her mental health was spiralling.
“The first person I told about this was my therapist and I was processing it in therapy. I then started to tell more people about it, the next person being my boyfriend who was very non-judgmental. The more I spoke about it and got it out in the open the more my mental health was declining. I eventually suffered a breakdown (or a quarter life breakthrough as I like to call it) which was the most frightening thing I have ever experienced.”
Understandably, opening up about such a traumatic experience will have had a huge impact on mental health. It had been documented that child sexual abuse can have a detrimental effect on general emotional wellbeing with outcomes such as depression, anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicidal thoughts.
Anna’s mental health took a hit.
“I was in crisis and this is when I asked for help. I experienced psychotic outbursts, panic attacks, dissociation, deep depressive episodes and intense suicidal thoughts and ideation. I eventually went to the police and reported the abuse which made my mental health even worse as I had to recall all the traumatic memories I experienced. This was a very distressing process. I started remembering more and more of the abuse, then I started developing PTSD symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance and insomnia. It felt like I was reliving the trauma that was stored on my body and in my mind. I was so suicidal and just wanted the pain to go away.”
Among victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, 73% had PTSD. IICSA has stated that children can also experience a range of emotions such as fear, sadness, anger and guilt as well as self-blame. This often continues into adulthood.
“I had to work through many emotions associated with abuse such as guilt, shame and anger. The hardest part of my journey was accepting that I was a victim of child sexual abuse. I couldn’t accept it for months. But I am not a victim anymore, I’m a survivor of child abuse and survived something so traumatic.”
We think that this is such an admirable way of looking at such an unimaginably awful experience and know that this will inevitably help so many come to terms with their own sexual abuse. This change in mindset will have undoubtedly helped Anna in her recovery.
“It’s been a long road to recovery but I’m now in a good place mentally to be able to speak about the abuse, I am not ashamed anymore! Going through my struggles was really hard for me and my family but it’s made me realise how strong and resilient I am. It’s made me reflect on the good things in my life and appreciate those close to me. I now feel empowered to talk about this and be an advocate for child sexual abuse and hopefully help others in the future.”
Anna is definitely a brilliant advocate for this and we’re sure that by sharing her experience with sexual abuse and her mental health battles it will only give others in a similar position courage to seek help.
We asked Anna what advice she would give to someone who might find themselves in a similar position. Here is her response:
- You are not alone and healing is possible. Although it can feel very isolating, abuse is more common that you think. 1 in 10 children are abused before their 18th birthday!
- Healing takes courage and patience so don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Be aware of grounding techniques. These helped me massively through my recovery.
- Get a journal. I remember feeling very overwhelmed by many different feelings which I couldn’t describe. Writing everyday really helped me to heal. I also wrote 5 positive affirmations everyday which helped me when I was experiencing intense suicidal thoughts.
- Abuse is very unique and personal. You might think you have difficulty coping but you’ve survived and are surviving now.
Although it was initially very challenging for Anna to open up and confide in those she trusted, discussing her past has ensured that she has received the right help and support she needed in order to recuperate. Anna also shared that she had lots of mental health support from her doctors, the crisis team and community mental health team.
“When I had my breakdown, I was quickly referred to the crisis team and had daily visits. My psychiatrist advised which medication to go on for my symptoms. It got to a stage where I nearly had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital because I was not safe. There were no beds there so I was looked after at home and eventually I started to get better. When I was discharged from the crisis team, I was then referred to the community mental health team which involved weekly sessions with my care coordinator.”
“When I did my statement to the police, they advised me of a charity called Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse (CARA) who provide counselling. I had to wait 7 months for therapy which felt like a long time but within this time I was able to work on myself and heal, although I did have relapses during this period. I have been having counselling since November 2020 and my therapist and I have a very good therapeutic relationship. I feel safe and comfortable talking to her about my abuse and working through my emotions.”
Anna has been incredibly brave and has already faced so many different challenges in her life. We cannot thank her enough for sharing her personal and honest story with us. There’s no doubt that this will raise the awareness of child sexual abuse as well as various mental health issues.
We have some links below that you can visit if you need any support or help with this topic:
CARA – www.caraessex.org.uk
Lucy Faithfull Foundation – www.lucyfaithfull.org.uk
NSPCC – www.nspcc.org.uk
Thank you for reading,
Nick & Lucy x