Archive for the ‘Sexual abuse’ Category

Why we get confused

May 14, 2007


Someone asked me to clarify why I mentioned in “The emotions of abuse” that one of the emotions one can feel as a result of abuse (especially sexual abuse) is confusion. This is a delicate point, and I hope I will be able to explain my thoughts on it properly.

In order to understand this, we need to look a little at human physiology – how the body is “wired up”.

For example, when excessive heat is applied to the skin there is a burning sensation and the body reacts by trying to get away from the heat. This is an automatic reaction, which is governed by the body’s autonomic nervous system – i.e. we don’t think about flinching, our body just does it. There are also similar instinctive reactions that happen when we experience a pleasant physical sensation.

The confusing part is that these automatic pleasant sensations can also be present even when something unpleasant is happening. This occurs in cases such as sexual abuse, sexual assault, or rape.

When the sexual organs are touched, there is an automatic response from the nervous system which sends a sensation of pleasure to the brain. This is an involuntary reaction and has nothing to do with whether a sexual advance is welcome or not. This means that along with all the terror, disgust, shame, rage, helplessness, and pain someone suffers when sexually assaulted, there is also the sensation of pleasure.

Someone who has been assaulted (especially if it happened when he or she was young) can easily misinterpret this pleasant sensation (which is just a normal biological response) as a sign that in some way they “wanted” or “caused” the attack. This also means that someone who has suffered sexual abuse can be left with the impression that they are somehow “dirty” or “sinful”.

This feeling that we are somehow to blame for the abuse that we suffered is also very often reinforced by a perpetrator’s attempts to control us and keep us quiet by threats or other forms of coercion.

Often people feel relieved when they realize that the sensation of pleasure they experience when the sexual organs are touched are not “bad” or “dirty”, but just a perfectly normal biological response.

When someone is in therapy for sexual abuse or assault, then this is one piece that is very important to work on, otherwise the feelings of shame, guilt, and confusion over the abuse will be difficult to clear.



May 14, 2007


Originally VSARG stood for “Vaisnava Survivors of Abuse Resource Group”. After some discussion, however, it became “Vaisnava Support and Abuse Resource Group” in order to include a greater number of “survivors”.

When I first heard the idea “survivor of abuse” I very much appreciated the inherent strength in the expression – especially if we contrast it with the more commonly used term of “victim”.

For me, the word “survivor” conjures up a picture of someone who has been through a terrible experience, but who has come out the other side more or less intact and perhaps even strengthened. On the other hand, “victim” suggests someone who is in a helpless condition – someone who is destined to suffer and perish at the hands of another. Therefore, to be a survivor of abuse has a very different feel to it than to be a victim of abuse.

Interestingly, it is possible for us to take either stance as a response to what we experience in life.

Playing the part of a victim is not limited to violent attacks, but also to how we react to the everyday ups and downs of life. In some ways, being a “victim” is convenient because then we don’t have to take responsibility for our own failings or weaknesses, but can blame them on others.

For example, an adult who blames a parent who was emotionally distant for their own inability to express affection remains in the position of a small child – weak and helpless. Alternatively, when we as grown-ups take responsibility for our failings (understanding that those failings come from either bad choices or negative experiences), then we are in contact with the power and independence of an adult.

As with many things in life, the transition from victim to survivor is usually a gradual one. It is rare for someone to wake up one day “snapped out” of one frame of reference and “snapped into” the other. These things take time, sensitivity, patience, and compassion.

Study reveals global child abuse

May 11, 2007


A shocking picture of physical, sexual and psychological violence being perpetrated against children on a daily basis has been revealed in a UN report.

The first UN study of global violence against children says such abuse is often socially approved or even legal. It concludes that violence against under-18s occurs in every country, every society and every social group. The UN has called on states to outlaw violence against children and to ensure their rights are protected. The study, which was requested by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, is the result of four years of research.

Psychological scars

The report’s author, Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, says the situation revealed is not acceptable and decades of silent abuse can no longer remain unchallenged.

“Protection from violence is a matter of urgency,” writes Mr Pinheiro, “Children have suffered adult violence unseen and unheard for centuries.”

The UN is calling on every country to have a national strategy to prevent violence against children. The report, the first of its kind, charts various kinds of violence, from prostitution to school bullying, taking place in different stages and spheres of childrens’ lives – at home, in the community and in institutions.

It estimates that some 150 million girls, 14% of the planet’s child population, are sexually abused each year, as well as seven percent of boys, or 73 million children. Such violence can leave serious long–term psychological scars which result in increased risky sexual behavior, substance abuse and violence towards others in adulthood.

Hidden violence

The study suggests that between 80–93% of children suffer physical punishment in their homes, although many of them do not speak of it due to stigma, shame and a lack of faith in legal systems. The home can also be a dangerous place for some of the estimated 82 million girls who marry before the age of 18 and can face violence from their partners.

“There are several modalities of violence that are invisible or there is a wall of silence – violence inside the school, inside the home, at the workplace, the community and institutions,” Mr Pinheiro told the BBC.

Gender also shapes the likelihood of experiencing different types of violence. A study of 21 mainly developed countries, for example, found that up to 36% of women and 29% of men reported being sexually victimised during childhood. But boys, especially in the 15–17 age group, are up to four times more likely to be murdered than girls of the same age. The authors said they were encouraged by the participation of 135 governments from across the globe.

But the report recognises that one of the greatest challenges is changing a social mindset that tacitly accepts violence towards minors. It includes a list of recommendations including the creation of national commissioners to prevent violence against children and national legal frameworks to protect children.

“After the emancipation of the workers in the 19th Century, the emancipation of the women in the 20th Century, I think that this is the moment to recognise children as being protected by rights, as full citizens, and not as mini–human beings or the property of their families,” Mr Pinheiro said.

Dealing with abuse

May 11, 2007


An important consideration in helping a child who has suffered abuse is what the perpetrator did to try to stop the child from telling anyone. This includes convincing the child that they will not be believed (or will be punished) for telling, and threats of torture or death (aimed against the child, the family, or the child’s pet). In the immediate aftermath of abuse it’s important to help children deal with, 1) how he/she feels about him/herself, and 2) the symptoms he/she has to deal with (e.g. nightmares, physical pain, acting out, insomnia, and huge emotional problems). The intensity (and time duration) of the symptoms mainly depends on how the child is treated after the event (shamed, believed, ignored, threatened, protected, or handed over for more of the same).

Trauma – an introduction

May 9, 2007


Since sexual abuse is only one of many different kinds of trauma that people experience I would like to spend some time talking about traumas in general as they have many things in common.

Definitions of a trauma:

“Any experience that overwhelms a person’s capacity to cope.”

“Too much, too fast, too soon.”

“Trauma is in the body, not in the event.”

One of the things that was noticed in developing trauma therapy is that animals in the wild never get traumatized. This is despite the fact that they are regularly in life-threatening situations. It is thought that this is because they allow their body’s natural defenses to discharge the energy of a traumatic event.

There are 3 basic responses to trauma: fight, flight or freeze. Traumas are not distinct from each other but accumulate over time. When working with traumas you need to go slowly so that the person’s nervous system is not overwhelmed again. Telling the story from beginning to end with all the details will re-traumatize the person. It helps when we can notice that the traumatic experience is over. However, if during the traumatic event someone died or was badly injured it’s harder to feel that it’s over.

The emotions of abuse

May 9, 2007


Since we are thinking beings, it can often help to understand that the difficulties we experience as a result of abuse and trauma are normal reactions – i.e. anyone who had a similar experience would have a similar reaction. For example, emotions that you would expect someone to feel during, and as a result of, abuse (especially sexual abuse) are: terror, rage, guilt, shame, grief, invasion, helplessness, pain, and confusion. These are powerful emotions and if left untreated can literally cripple a person’s ability to function normally in the world. Over the next few postings, I will discuss some of these emotions in more detail.

Sexual abuse – an introduction

May 9, 2007

I thought that to start off with I could discuss some points on the category of trauma known as sexual abuse. Unfortunately, sexual abuse is highly prevalent in society today and affects both men and women. Very conservative figures estimate that at least 25% of all girls have been sexually abused by the age of 16. That’s a frighteningly large figure. The sexual abuse of boys is vastly under-reported, so it’s hard even to estimate how widespread it is.

There are all sorts of issues on this theme. The most important one being, of course, that of safety – protecting children from abuse. Abuse of any kind is never OK. Ever. And in the case of sexual abuse it is criminal and should therefore be reported to the proper civil authorities. If the child is under the age of consent, whether they “agree” to sex with an adult or not, such sexual activity is classed as a crime and should therefore be treated as such.

The effects of abuse are long-lasting and painful – fortunately there are ways to recover. And that’s really what this blog is all about. In future posts I will start to discuss some of these techniques.