Understanding the impact of child sexual abuse

Child abuseOn Monday the 1st of October at precisely 08:00 am my telephone rang. It was a producer from BBC 3 Counties Radio wanting me to come in to the studio later that morning to advise on the long term effects of child abuse following the news of Jimmy Saville and the allegations against him of child abuse. Shortly into the conversation, it became apparent that this producer held the common belief that it was possible to distinguish between different acts of child sexual abuse and the level of impact it would later have. This “league table of abuse” sees different behaviours towards a child having different emotional/psychological consequences. For those who subscribe to this way of thinking a person who was inappropriately touched over their clothing should be less effected than someone who was subjected to full sexual contact. Whilst I can see why people might think like this, the reality is much different.

The level of impact that an incidence of child sexual abuse has, has far more elements to it than the act itself. Some of these factors are:

The child’s relationship with the abuser (the closer the relationship, the greater the sense of betrayal)
The setting in which the abuse occurred
The age of the child
Whether that child had/has a wider support network such as friends/family or is essentially alone
The general personality of the child in the first place

And many many more.

The actual act of abuse that a child suffers from is only a small part of an overall picture. I would not go so far as to say that the severity of an act (particularly when accompanied by violence) has no influence at all, just that that it is by no means the only factor to consider. Alongside the myth that levels of abuse determine levels of impact is that the gender of this child has any importance at all. It is a myth that girls who suffer abuse at the hands of an adult are more affected than boys or that boys “get over it” more easily than girls.

Those who suffer abuse as children can, and will, vary a great deal in how this impacts their lives as adults. One of the greatest influences on the level, depth and perseverance of this impact is the attitudes of the general public regarding what it sees as “levels” of abuse and “understandable” degrees of impact dependent upon what has actually happened.

If this blog achieves anything at all in this world, I would hope that at least one reader is persuaded to reconsider their belief that this league table of abuse exists and to look at the bigger picture of the individual concerned.

If you or a loved one has suffered the inhumane experience of child abuse and would like more information about how working with a trained professional can help break free from the shadows. Please telephone on 01279 834467 for a confidential, no obligation conversation prior to booking an appointment.