If you’re an adult who experienced sexual abuse as a child, you are not alone. In Canada, 1 in 3 females and 1 in 6 males are sexually abused before they turn 18 years old*.
It is not uncommon to want to forget what happened and try to move on, but research shows that the sooner a survivor can speak about their experience in a supportive environment, the faster and more complete the healing process will be.
Sexual abuse of children and youth often involves grooming, manipulation, coercion, bribery, and forced secrecy. As children, survivors may have tried to tell an adult and were met with resistance, or felt that there was no one that they could trust. For these reasons and many others, the effects of sexual abuse can appear many years after the abuse has ended.
Adult survivors of child sexual abuse have been living with these memories for a long time. Remember that there is no “normal” timeline for dealing with and recovering from this experience.
The Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
Adult survivors of child sexual abuse may encounter a range of common short and long-term effects. Sexual violence affects everyone differently, but adult survivors of child sexual abuse may have some of the following concerns that are specific to their experience:
- Guilt, shame, blame and anger. Survivors may feel angry and direct their anger at people they love and trust, but not really know why. They might feel guilty about not having been able to stop the assault, or blame themselves for what happened.
- Self-esteem. Survivors may struggle with low self-esteem, which affects many different areas of life such as relationships, school or career, and health. The survivor may feel overwhelmed, inadequate, or helpless.
- Physical and emotional effects. Survivors may experience headaches, digestive issues or other pain, develop sleeping difficulties. They may become anxious or depressed. Some may choose to numb their pain with alcohol, drugs, or other coping behaviours like disordered eating or self-harm.
- Intimacy and relationships. Survivors may struggle to set boundaries that help them feel safe in relationships. Trusting others may be difficult. Survivors may find challenges with intimacy or communications.
See our resource page on the effects of sexualized violence for more information.
Sexualized Violence and Memory
Memories can emerge years after the event took place, often so intensely that it feels as if it is happening in the present. Sometimes these memories are triggered by a sensory experience—touch, smell, sight, taste, or sound. These are often referred to as flashbacks. Visit our Survivor’s Toolkit for some resources on how to manage flashbacks.
A common worry for survivors is whether or not they can trust their memories—that maybe they are imagining it, or pulling together pieces from TV shows or news stories.
It is not uncommon for people to forget or bury traumatic events. It is possible for someone to have no or few memories of sexual abuse.
Trust yourself—your knowledge, your gut instinct, your feelings. Even if you can’t remember the exact details, healing is still possible. You have control over your life and what happens next.
Reporting to the Police
In Canada, there is no statute of limitations for reporting sexualized violence to the police (meaning there is no time limit – you can report sexualized violence at any point afterward). Take a look: we have answered some of the most commonly asked questions about reporting your assault to the police. Contact our office if you have any more questions about reporting sexualized violence or the impacts.
*Statistics Canada. Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends. Maire Sinha. February 2013.