Survivors of Sexual Abuse
If you or a loved one have experienced sexual abuse, our counselors are trained to help you. Recovering from sexual trauma can be a lifelong process. We move from shock and anger, to depression and despair before settling into acceptance and growth. Part of the journey involves (re)claiming sexual pleasure for oneself. Trauma work can diminish and resolve feelings such as hypervigilance, dissociation, guilt, flashbacks, depression, low self confidence, anxiety, sense of being ‘spoiled’. Our counselors have experience with many effective methods of pursuing this kind of healing: EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), internal family systems, and psychodynamic.
Let us work together to free the survivor inside — claiming your full experience of intimacy, pleasure, and love.
Intimacy versus Isolation
By William Kelly, LCSWR, DST
The overwhelming percentage of sexual harm done to children comes from people those children know and trust. The adult or adolescent engaging in sexual harm are like most other persons involved in criminal activity. They do not want to get caught. And if caught, they want their victim or victims to deny that the sexual abuse happened.
To achieve their goals of sexual gratification without criminal consequences, the sexual offender “grooms” the child. Grooming can be defined as establishing a high degree of trust, creating a special and secret intimacy, and treating that child with often unlimited regard. Gifts, special favors, being treated as an equal by an adult are often part of this process. Intimidation arrives in the form of dire outcomes if their secrets are revealed. Loss of seeing the person, letting the child know that s/he will be responsible for bad things happening, or that the child will be blamed and sent away add to the sexual offender’s sense of safety.
The sexual offender, despite claims to the contrary takes his or her time to gain mastery over their child victim(s). The defenses that, “my hand slipped,” “I was drunk, I don’t know what happened…” are seldom accurate or true. Most sexual offenders, again with an eye to their own safety slowly cross physical boundaries with their victim(s). They are gauging whether the child will protest or expose the offender’s behavior. When no repercussions to the offender are forthcoming, more boundaries are crossed.
At the same time the sexual offender is grooming the child, s/he is grooming the family, the care givers and others who supervise the child. Sexual abuse occurs out of sight. Out of the sight of the public, and out of the sight of supervising adults. The sexual offender must gain the trust of the family and others in order to have that child out of sight. The violation of trust for that child is profound. Not only does the sexual offender break the bonds of trust, but the adults with the responsibility to guard and protect the child betray the child.
The public generally thinks sexual abuse is about a sexual act or acts. In children, as with many adolescents and adults sexual abuse is much more profound. The process of grooming often mirrors the process of courtship. It mirrors the development of a mutual and trusting intimate relationship between two older adolescents or adults.
Survivors who were sexually abused through the process of grooming find themselves confused, angry, and wanting to isolate when they are faced with the potential of a mutual intimate adult sexual relationship. When they try to push themselves into sexual contact with their adult partner, fears of sexual inadequacy, barriers to abandonment to sexual pleasure arise. For the partners, the observed behaviors are bewildering and lead to estrangement.
For some survivors, they watch and are aware that their bodies are responding physically to sexual scenario, but that they are not there. They are spectators; not emotionally or at times sexually connected with their partner.
Erik Erikson wrote the Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development. When in early adulthood and into one’s 40’s he defines as the Stage of Intimacy versus Isolation. If a person has successfully emerged from adolescence with a good sense of self, then one begins the next step of sharing her or his life with others. When the previous Stages have been altered in negatives ways then going about establishing solid relationships that last becomes problematic. Often instead of the development of intimate relationships, persons report being isolated emotionally and enduring a strong sense of loneliness.
For survivors stumbling from childhood to adolescence to adulthood carry the weight of mistrust, shame and doubt, guilt, inferiority, and role confusion. The previous Stages collide with the new task of forming intimate relationships. The survivor finds oneself isolated, even when seemingly surrounded by intimate friends and partners.
Moving from victim to survivor is a journey that requires tenacity and guidance. Action comes in the form of self-exploration with the help of others. An acknowledgement that the sexual abuse did have an impact, and that the building blocks of one’s psychosexual development are altered are essential tools of the journey. For many, sex therapy can be the agent of positive change on this journey.
Sex therapy is a form of behavioral therapy generally combined with psychotherapy. The sex therapist, working with the client or the client and partner endeavor to unmask the triggers that bring fright and anger rather than connection and pleasure. The sex therapist looks to change the default from isolation to intimacy. Giving mastery to the individual over their boundaries, while at the same time reclaiming their own sexuality, their sexual pleasure and sexual identity.
Intimacy versus isolation. We can help you take back that which was taken.
Bivona Child Advocacy Center delivers excellence in child abuse response, healing and prevention through collaborative service, awareness, education and leadership. (585) 935-7800
Report child abuse at the NYS Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-342-3720
RESTORE for Monroe, Genesee, Livingston, Orleans, Wyoming Counties: 585-546-2777 Elsewhere in the US: 1-800-656-4673 RESTORE provides steadfast and confidential support to all survivors of sexual assault.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) -National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673)
Concerned about your own thoughts or behaviors regarding children? WhatsOk responds exclusively, comprehensively and professionally to questions and concerns specific to child sexual abuse and preventing sexual harm from people who are in many diverse roles and relationships with youth, of all perspectives about all stages of prevention and intervention.
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Willow Domestic Violence Center