Articles Posted in Sexual Abuse Research

Over the past 20 years, the Center for Disease Control has researched the relationship between childhood trauma and illnesses developed later in life. Traumatic experiences such as abuse or neglect, witnessing violence at home, or family with mental illness or substance abuse all had lasting negative impacts. The CDC called these events, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Their most recent study included 144,000 surveys, collected from respondents in 25 states from 2015-2017. These surveys included topics such as health problems, childhood experiences with divorce, abuse, domestic violence, drugs in the home, and mental illness. Crimes such as sexual abuse would also fall into the category of ACEs.

Traumatic childhood experiences could impact development and potentially lead to unhealthy behaviors.

ACEs negatively impact a child, but the CDC wanted to know how these events might have triggered illnesses and preventable conditions later in life. If ACEs never occurred, issues such as coronary heart disease, depression and suicide, weight issues, substance abuse, decreased education or work opportunities, poor maternal health, cancer, or sexually transmitted diseases might be potentially preventable. Researchers could not rule out other factors, such as financial stress. Still, Jim Mercy, who oversees the CDC violence protection program, says, “there’s a lot of evidence connecting these things…and it’s become clear that the more harmful incidents a child suffers, the more likely their health suffers later.”

Why childhood sex abuse may cause repressed memories in adulthood, and why victims may take years to come forward.

The human brain is a complex organ. It has nearly full control over the functioning of both the body and the mind. However, a traumatic event can deeply change the way a victim’s brain processes and interprets information. Any profoundly horrifying or life-threatening occurrence – a natural disaster, a battle, or a physical or sexual assault – can scar the mind and alter the operation and structure of the victim’s brain.

The Science Behind Memory Repression and Retrieval

How childhood sex abuse leads to PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD, is a grave psychological condition triggered by a traumatic or horrifying event in a person’s life, such as childhood sexual abuse. The person’s life may have been placed in mortal danger, or they may have sustained grievous injury-or there may have been the imminent threat of grievous injury. PTSD is a consequence of the feelings of powerlessness, terror, or latent phobias which often plague survivors of traumatic experiences. While PTSD has traditionally been associated with war veterans, similar symptoms have been documented in victims of accidents, natural disasters, or physical or sexual assault.

Moments of intense fear or horror create powerful echoes within a person’s psyche. It’s natural for that person to experience a broad spectrum of emotional turmoil following the event; awe, anxiety, anger, terror-even shame and guilt. In some cases, these emotions may fade with time. Frequently, however, these emotions escalate, taking over the individual’s life and making it difficult to work or have normal relationships. A person who has had PTSD symptoms for longer than a month and is experiencing difficulty with their lifestyle and functionality needs immediate help.

A look at how child sex abuse effects brain structure and function

It’s an established fact in psychology and neuroscience that the earliest years of a child’s life are the most formative. The experiences a child has in the first years of life impacts the kind of adult you become. Optimally, an abundance of learning opportunities and thorough parental involvement become a recipe for a well-balanced and contented adulthood. In the worst-case scenario, Child Sex Abuse Brain Impacthowever, an unhappy childhood—full of stress, traumatic experiences, parental neglect, and other unpleasantness—can have “lasting negative outcomes” on a person’s life.

At the annual Society for Neuroscience Conference in 2012, Jamie Hanson, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin, presented some of his insights into the development of the brain and behavior of children who’d experienced stress, such as child sex abuse, in their formative years.

How it Helps Sexually Abused Kids

A Children’s Advocacy Center, or CAC, is an organization that focuses on helping victimized children sensitively yet efficiently. They do so without forcing children to relive their horrible experience by repeating their stories numerous times. CACs bring together specialists from many different disciplines: law enforcement officials, child protective services, lawyers, psychiatrists, physicians, and child advocacy groups. These individuals jointly interview abused children and decide, as a single unit, the best course to take with the investigation of the crime, the treatment of the children’s psychological trauma, and the proper conduct of legal proceedings.

The Model, Explained

A new approach to helping sexually abused children

The National Center for Trauma-Informed Care and Alternatives to Seclusion and Restraint, or NCTIC defines trauma-informed healthcare as “an approach to engaging people with histories of trauma (such as childhood sexual abuse) that recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role that trauma has played in their lives.”

What exactly is “trauma”? The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, holds that “individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

Helping Child Sex Abuse Victims & their Parents Move Forward

Much attention is being paid to victims of child sex abuse before and during the criminal trial of their abuser. Victims receive the customary outpouring of public sympathy and righteous indignation on their behalf. But what happens after the abuser is convicted and imprisoned?

The psychological and physical problems resulting from the sexual abuse don’t just fade away with the public furor. Childhood sexual abuse often causes a lifetime of mental health issues. Victims battle with feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and anxiety for years afterward. They often have difficulty forming meaningful relationships as adults. In extreme cases, sex abuse victims turn to self-harm or suicide to escape their mental strife.

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