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Impact of child sex abuse lasts a lifetime

June 30, 2012
By Ashley Rittenhouse - The Marietta Times ( , The Marietta Times

Confusion, guilt and physical pain are just some of the things sexually abused children experience.

While the physical pain may only be temporary, many feelings and emotions associated with the abuse last a lifetime.

"I don't think a person can completely heal from that," said Sheila Shafer, deputy director of programs at Athens County Children Services. "It's part of their history, their existence, but it's important as part of the healing process to come to terms that they were a child when it happened and they aren't to blame and there are adults that were supposed to be protecting them."

Shafer said there are many ways sexual abuse can impact a child, including physically.

She said a child may experience trauma vaginally, anally or orally from the abuse, but that's not always the case.

"If they were doing fondling over the clothing or rubbing that won't leave the physical trauma as much as emotional trauma," Shafer said. "Often the perpetrator is someone the child knows and has a relationship with so it's really a violation of trust or it's a person they respected and there's that violation and confusion."

Shafer added that sexual abuse leaves children feeling confused because the abuser typically grooms the child, gaining his or her trust and admiration before committing the abuse.

"The child is confused but they have an allegiance and they don't want to get (the perpetrator) in trouble because they care about them. So here's a child made to make the adult type choice of (whether) to tell or not tell," she said. "Holding that type of secret and not being able to share that with parents or other people, that's devastating."

"It's a real violation of trust with the perpetrator but also it gets to their core value," Shafer added. "Child sexual abuse is so damaging because it gets to the core, the self of who a person is's impacting relationships and trust and as human beings that's something we all have to have to be successful, achieve and be well adjusted."

Shafer said sexually abused children are usually left feeling they're to blame for the abuse and it is often the perpetrator who causes that feeling of guilt to surface.

She said usually a person who is sexually abused as a child continues to have memories or feelings associated with the abuse throughout their life.

"Children who are molested deal with it when they're in puberty and dating," Shafer said. "These sexuality issues come back when they're dating, married and have the birth of their own children or just in parenting their own children they worry it might happen to them."

Shafer said some sexually abused children don't remember all the details of the abuse but something might happen to them later in life that results in memories or fragments of memories of the abuse flooding back into their minds.

"Those can be triggered by many different things - seeing or smelling or hearing something that happened during that event or tasting or feeling something," she said. "Sometimes they can make sense of it and sometimes they don't but the emotion is there and it's raw."

Kimberly Ensign, a protective caseworker at Washington County Children Services, said depression and self-injurious behavior are sometimes the result of sexual abuse.

"Boys are more likely to harm others, girls are more likely to harm themselves," she said.

Shafer said sexually abused children can also experience feelings of shame and unworthiness.

"Those are things that are extremely damaging and that impact social relationships with parents, peers and siblings and later with their spouse and own children," she said.



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