The news that Jerry Sandusky from the Penn State football program sexually abused young boys hit the news and created a wildfire of disgust and questions among many people. Information regarding Jerry’s history with boys and eye witness accounts has painted a hideous picture. As a psychoterapist with a specialty in trauma, I have treated countless individuals who have been victims of sexual crimes. I wanted to write this article to bring awareness to the victim’s experience and the aftermath they face from such a crime. Please remember that it is always an adults responsibility to protect a child no matter the circumstances. Authorities should always be contacted if you become aware of a sexual act toward a child.
Sexual perpetrators tend to seek out positions where they will be surrounded by children in order to find their victims. I have treated adults who have been sexually abused by camp counselors, Boy Scout leaders, teachers, physicians, coaches, neighbors, as well as family members. Perpetrators have usually been sexually abused themselves. They begin by “grooming” the children around them, often times finding a child who is in need of an adult they can trust and lean on. Such children may be experiencing their parents’ divorce, bullying at school, neglect at home, loss of a loved on, and so on which makes them particularly vulnerable. The “grooming” period entails the perpetrator creating a trusting and close relationship with the child. The perpetrator then begins introducing physical contact with the child such as tickling, hugs, and even showering with them. Sexual acts will then follow if the perpetrator finds that the child will succumb to sexual advances by an adult.
The victims can experience many emotions when they are being and have been sexually abused. Some are petrified by the perpetrator while the sexual act may feel good to some victims. The main emotions of sexual abuse are usually shame and guilt which victims usually carry with them throughout their lifetime if they do not seek help. Some children will tell an adult right away, while others may not have a trustworthy or present adult to protect them from the abuse. The adult children of sexual abuse may blame themselves that they could have stopped it. They struggle with trust and close relationships even as adults. Many victims struggle with intimacy in their adult relationships and may never tell even their closest partners of the horror and shame they hold within themselves from their abuse. Victims may experience flashbacks of their abuse, nightmares, intense fears of the outside world, hypersexuality, continued unfulfillment in relationships, drug use, weight gain, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety, panic, and eating disorders which are all sypmtoms of sexual abuse. When a victim’s sexual abuse is triggered they can shake, loose their appetite, overeat, abuse substances, retreat from close relationships, become physically sick, vomit, become angry, experience numbness, feel disgust within themselves, or even become suicidal. Victims have described their sexual abuse as a secret or demons they carry around with them and do no want anyone to find out about. They are often disgusted by it in many ways.
The treatment of sexual abuse should include a safe relationship with a therapist who is trained in trauma. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is the leader in the treamtent of trauma. This therapy takes away the emotional charge of trauma and frees the victim from holding the trauma in their body. EMDR heals their negative thoughts about themselves from the trauma, the emotions attached to the trauma, and creates a future template of how they would like to view the trauma in the future which is usally an empowered stance. The emotional charge of the trauma is taken away and the vicimt will feel neutral regarding the incident. EMDR therapy can be very intense as it gets to the route of the trauma and releases it. Healing abuse takes many twists and turns. After treating the sexual abuse trauma through EMDR, working on self-esteem, trust and intimacy in relationships usually follows. Victims do not have to live with the secret and pain of abuse. There are skilled professionals who can help them.