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 you can speak about your experience in a supportive environment, the faster and more complete your healing process will be.
Sexual abuse of children and youth often involves grooming, manipulation, coercion, bribery, and forced secrecy. As a child, you may have tried to tell an adult and were met with resistance, or felt that there was no one you could trust. For these reasons and many others, the effects of sexual abuse can appear many years after the abuse has ended.
As an adult survivor, you 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
If you experienced sexual abuse as a child, you 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. You may feel angry and direct that at people you love and trust, but not really know why. You might feel guilty about not having been able to stop the abuse, or blame yourself if you experienced physical pleasure. It’s important for you to understand that the person who manipulated and hurt you should be held accountable—not you.
- Self-esteem. You may struggle with low self-esteem, which can be a result of negative messages you received from your abuser(s) or from having your personal safety violated or ignored. Low self-esteem can affect many different areas of your life such as your relationships, career, and health.
- Intimacy and relationships. It’s possible that your first experiences with sex came as a result of sexual abuse. As an adult, intimacy might be a struggle. Survivors may also struggle to set up boundaries that help them feel safe in relationships. Trusting others may be difficult. Adult survivors may find challenges when they begin parenting as certain situations uncover buried memories.
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. 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.