There is no shortage of people who personally understand the impact of child sexual abuse. However, our community and individual silence serves to isolate us and may keep us from acknowledging the real impact, and from gaining the strength, resources and support we need to heal. But together we have a chance to experience freedom from our past and become truly whole!
Child Sexual Abuse Best Practices Introduction
Every adult plays a part in the resolution of the child sexual abuse pandemic. As a survivor your part is to heal. When you choose to heal, you break the cycle of abuse and minimize future dysfunction in your family legacy. You also inspire other survivors to heal. This creates a ripple affect that will help heal your community, your nation and the world.
The shear act of sexual abuse robs children of their power and when they keep the secret, it continues to drain them of power. Some survivors carry that powerlessness well into their adult life. This program is designed to give you the knowledge, courage, and support you need to break your silence and take back your power!
Every survivor is different and we all have our own unique healing journey but there are also great similarities. The intent of this program is to:
- Connect you with others who can provide the support and encouragement you need to get started on your healing journey and to keep moving forward.
- Meet you where you are on your journey and give you the flexibility to determine your own next steps and their timing.
- Provide a framework for your healing process so that you have direction – you will come to understand where you are and you will envision where you want to be, so you can chart a course to get there.
- Guide you to become a conscious observer of your thoughts, feelings and behaviors and how your surroundings affect them.
- Help you identify lies you have come to believe about yourself and the world and teach you how to speak truth back into your life.
- Introduce you to the vast collection of healing resources and guide you to specific resources that will support your next step.
- Help you discover who you were always meant to be.
From survivors like yourself, experts have documented time after time, behavior patterns that appear BEFORE abuse occurs. So, with the right training, we can recognize when children are in danger and put best practices in place to directly reduce the risk of abuse in our homes, neighborhoods and youth serving organizations. We wish we could say that people were knowledgeable and outspoken when you were a child. We wish they would have protected you. Although we cannot change the past, we can change the future but we need YOUR help!
In her book, The Socially Skilled Child Molester, Dr. Carla van Dam states that “Child molesters [also] gravitate to those people who are most likely to be too polite to fend them off, too shy and anxious to tell them to leave, too dependent to be assertive, and too impressed by rank, power, status or money to do the right thing. Child molesters deliberately associate with adults who cannot address these issues. They seek out adults who worry about hurting people’s feelings. They charm adults who do not believe it could happen.”
Your story can help others understand that it can and it does happen. You can help them overcome the potential vulnerabilities that Carla mentioned and teach them how to fight courageously for the innocence of our children. So, after you’ve engaged in the process of healing for some time and you’re feeling strong, we encourage you to give back by advocating for children. There’s a variety of activities and organizations you can get involved with but the most powerful form of advocacy is to help the public learn from your story. We call this process “Survivors with Purpose” as you’ll read more about in Best Practice #8.
When you advocate for kids through your story, you’ll:
- Empower adults to hold each other mutually accountable;
- Teach kids “the language of abuse” and give them permission to tell;
- And most importantly, you’ll put offenders on notice that we’re watching and our kids are off limits!
Together we can create a safer community for our children!
Best Practice #1 – Determine Your Starting Point
The consequences of child sexual abuse can be vast but so are the opportunities for healing. Everyone is impacted differently based on several factors including but not limited to:
- Age at the time of the abuse
- Duration of the abuse
- Extent of the abuse (visual, fondling, oral, penetration, pornography, violence)
- Relationship with, as well as age and gender of the perpetrator
- If there were multiple perpetrators (at one time or different incidents)
- Other types of abuse involved (emotional, physical, spiritual, etc.)
- Whether family, friends, and authorities believed you and/or protected you
- Access to early treatment opportunities
Many survivors spend years or even a lifetime stuffing the reality of their abuse, minimizing the impact, accepting reactive coping mechnisms and treating the symptoms of the abuse instead of the trauma itself. If you long to be free from the impact that your abuse has had on your life, we recommend a proactive, intentional approach to healing which starts with an honest assessment of how the abuse has impacted your life.
Because child sexual abuse has direct physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, behavioral, sexual and moral impacts, it’s important to assess each of these areas separately. Only when you understand where you are, can you chart an accurate course to where you’re going and gather the tools and support needed to achieve full healing and freedom from your past.
Best Practice #2 – Manage Access
Best Practice #2 is focused on who we spend our time with. In Best Practice #3 you’ll see our focus change to establishing boundaries relating to the behavior of those who we have chosen to be with, as well as our own behavior.
You Have the Right to Choose
When your sexual boundaries were violated, your perpetrator took away your right to choose. It’s time to take it back!
We know that may be easier said than done but in order to unwind the results of childhood sexual abuse, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge what happened. Many survivors don’t want to admit that they were victims of a crime because it makes them feel scared and vulnerable or it forces them to admit that if they were the victim of a crime then the person perpetrating the crime is a criminal. That may be very difficult to do if the perpetrator was a parent or someone else they loved or cared for. We understand.
However, if you can accept that someone wrongly took away your right to choose in those moments and that THEY HAD NO RIGHT to do so, then you can make your way to believing and claiming that YOU DO HAVE A RIGHT TO CHOOSE in all the other circumstances of your life. You have a right to decide who you spend time with. You have a right to decide where you work and where you go. You have a right to decide what types of activities you want to participate in. Claiming the right to choose gives you the power to protect yourself and make healthy choices that build your future, rather than reflect your past.
It’s Time to Make Conscious and Safe Choices
Now that you have accepted your right to choose, are you prepared to make good choices? One of the most common consequences of child sexual abuse is the survivor’s inability to distinguish between safe people and dangerous people, between safe places and dangerous places, between safe activities and dangerous activities, often resulting in revictimization. Because survivors were not afforded safety as children, their expectations may be distorted and they simply may not know what safety looks like. Survivors may naturally gravitate to what is familiar (unsafe) or as a protection mechanism they may “shut down” or disassociate when they sense danger, leaving them unavailable to make a conscious choice.
It’s important to rewrite your safety rules, kind of a “do over” of sorts. In the process, you establish new limits that serve you well as an adult and most importantly, you reconnect with your inate inner voice as discussed in Gaven de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear.
Respecting and Nurturing the Inner Child
As survivors go through the process of re-establishing limits that serve them well as adults, they sometimes find that what seems to be “safe” for other adults, doesn’t feel safe for them. Traumatic experiences such as childhood sexual abuse can leave behind a “wounded child” within, who is terrified of certain people, places or activities – this is sometimes referred to as arrested development or the inner child. It’s okay, it’s common.
As you learn more about the concept of arrested development, you’ll gain a new understanding of your inner child and learn to respect if he/she needs to have more stringent access limits, beyond what you may need to feel safe as an adult. As you get to know the needs of your inner child you’ll learn to nurture him/her through the natural, though somewhat delayed, maturation and healing process.
Best Practice #3 – Set, Document and Enforce Boundaries
Boundaries are at the heart of living a healthy life. Without them, every day is filled with a myriad of subjective choices that are far too often hindered by emotions, opinions, relationships and need for acceptance, love, security and money. In addition, survivors often make choices through the lens of their past instead of the vision of their future.
Setting boundaries is a process of determining what is healthy behavior and what is unhealthy behavior for both you and those who you choose to spend time with. When you establish boundaries based on your intention for your life, they provide a mechanism for objective decision making AND they allow you to create the future you always dreamed of, one choice at a time.
Because so many boundaries and core values were broken as part of your childhood sexual abuse, re-establishing boundaries is essential to creating health and balance in every aspect of your life including:
- Physical Health
- Mental Health
- Emotional Health
- Spiritual Health
- Relational Health
- Behavioral Health
- Sexual Health
- Moral Health
Healthy boundaries provide both the basis for living in harmony with the world around you and for reclaiming your sense of self and self-respect that are so often lost during and after abuse.
While it’s important to set boundaries, it’s just as important to establish consequences ahead of time which removes the need for decisions about repercussions after the fact when emotions are likely to influence the decision. You may want to have very strong consequences for others who cross critical boundaries such as lying, pushing sexual boundaries, or using demeaning language about you – perhaps even a zero tolerance rule resulting in terminating the relationship.
On the other hand, we encourage you to have patience with yourself in establishing and holding yourself accountable for new boundaries. It’s a journey, not an event and if you allow yourself to go to a place of condemnation because you were unable to stick to a boundary, that can be detrimental to your health and your overall progress. Instead, allow yourself to feel a healthy sense of conviction knowing that your behavior did not support the intentions for your life and that you’ll start fresh the next day without carrying the burden of shame or guilt. Remember, each day you get to make new choices and with each new choice, you have the opportunity to move closer to the future you envision.
Child Sexual Abuse Best Practice #4 – Regularly and Actively Assess Behaviors
Whether we realize it or not we’re changing every day. The question is, “Are we changing for the better?”
It’s so easy as survivors to let our past control our lives and therefore dictate our future. Making positive change daily may be easier than you think. It’s a matter of having a desire to be whole, following a plan that creates positive change one day at a time and taking the time to celebrate success.
For survivors, the process of regularly and actively assessing behaviors comes in the form of daily intentional journaling. Some survivors are fearful of journaling because they think that the process is about remembering and writing about their abusive past. That would scare me too! While we can’t guarantee that you won’t remember parts of your past, know that the focus of intentional journaling is on the present and the future. The good news is, there is an endless reservoir of books, classes, tools, techniques and modalities for healing. The bad news is, it’s difficult to know which will work for you. The process of intentional journaling will naturally reveal YOUR next steps on your unique healing journey.
- Intentional journaling will take you through a series of checkpoints each day helping you to consciously observe your thoughts, feelings and behaviors and how your surroundings affect them.
- Intentional journaling provides you with direct feedback on how your new access limits and boundaries are serving you and how they may need to be adjusted.
- Intentional journaling allows you to see where lies from your past are controlling your present, pinpointing where you need to speak truth back into your life.
- Intentional journaling shines a light on areas where you feel stuck, victimized or powerless and helps you identify multiple choices you can make.
- Intentional journaling provides you with a personalized prescription for healing that will lead you to the specific resources that will support YOU in becoming truly whole.
- Intentional journaling documents your progress making it impossible to overlook or minimize your success which in turn gives you hope and fortitude to continue to heal.
In the process, you will see the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control in your life increase while the anger, bitterness, resentment, hatred, fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, sadness, depression and despair begin to melt away. We so look forward to being a part of your journey!
Best Practice #5 – Create an Accountability Team
It’s not unusual for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to feel isolated and alone. They may believe that no one could possibly understand what they’ve been through, the emotional scars that were left behind and the “crazy” habits they’ve created in order to feel safe and in control. But the truth is experts estimate there are over 39 million survivors of child sexual abuse in America(2) alone with similar numbers in countries around the world. So there is no shortage of people who understand. As a matter of fact, they understand without you even having to share the details of your story. You see, although each of us has a unique story, the results are astoundingly similar.
While you may have family and friends who try to be supportive, compassionate and sympathetic, only another survivor of childhood sexual abuse can cut through your sorrow and pain with those sweet healing words – “me too.”
When we associate with other survivors, it creates a foundation for us to recognize and speak the truth. It creates the space for us to take what’s been bottled up inside us for so long and let it be gently released, never to return. When we release what we’ve held for so long, it leaves room for us to receive goodness and light in it’s place. And with each interaction we can rejoice in the hope of becoming truly free.
When we associate with survivors, we find others who are a few steps ahead of us in a particular area of healing and we can learn from listening to their experience and what tools and techniques they used to move forward. We’re all different so not everything suggested will be right for you or maybe not right at that time – take what works and leave the rest! We will also find others who are a few steps behind us in a particular area of healing and we can be the one to share our experience, tools and most importantly hope. You don’t have to be completely healed to help someone else, we are all in this together. As we’re all learning to heal, we can offer a word of encouragement; remind each other that we are not alone and that we have choice; acknowledge and celebrate our successes; and bring hope for the future of healing for us individually and together.
There are many opportunities to engage with other survivors with the intent of connection and support as well as the intent of learning. It’s most beneficial if you participate in a combination of opportunities from both categories. Here are some examples:
Connection and Support
- A local child sexual abuse support group
- An on-line child sexual abuse support group
- A on-line forum for child sexual abuse survivors
- A therapist who is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse
- Family and friends who may be survivors (you’ll be surprised how many survivors are around you, once you start talking about it!)
- A local healing class
- An on-line healing class
- An on-line blog dedicated to healing
- Life Coaches who specialize in healing from child sexual abuse
- Conferences on child sexual abuse
- Child advocates focused on prevention (most found their passion through personal experience)
- Books by survivors and about healing from child sexual abuse
The TAALK website (www.taalk.org) has a variety of ways to find these valuable resources – TAALK’s direct programs include local support groups in some communities, on-line support groups, on-line forums, as well as an on-line blog and a variety of local and on-line healing classes to help you continue your education.TAALK also hosts a Global Resource Directory and Global Calendar of Events for other providers around the world to list their programs. This consistent engagement with other survivors is how you will gather information about tips, tools, techniques and modalities used for healing the trauma of child sexual abuse. It’s all at your fingertips and we encourage you to become an active part of the broader healing community.
Best Practice #6 – Educate and Empower Children
Some survivors spend years and years in therapy, support groups, taking classes and reading books and still feel broken. As an adult, they know it was not their fault, they know they have choices, they have spent a lot of time dealing with their unhealthy emotions including fear, shame and anger. But somehow it’s all still there, just under the surface. This is often the “wounded child within” that we mentioned in Best Practice #2.
The trauma experienced by survivors of child sexual abuse can disrupt the normal process of child development. It can impact emotional development, social development as well as brain development. Trauma can also disrupt the way memories are processed and stored in the brain resulting in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When a survivor has PTSD, they experience a physiological response when a childhood memory is triggered leaving them with the same sense of fear or even terror they had at the time of the original experience. They may feel like they’re having an anxiety attack. Their heart rate may skyrocket, their palms may sweat, they may lash out at others or completely freeze. All of this is common for survivors of trauma and child sexual abuse in particular. If you experience signs of PTSD, you are not alone!
Acknowledging, embracing, nurturing and integrating the inner child is a crucial part of the healing process for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. There are a variety of techniques and modalities that are very effective in this area of healing including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Thought Field Therapy, Cranial Sacral Therapy, Neuro Scientific Methods, Non-Dominant Hand Journaling as well as a broad variety of natural supplements that restore balance.
While there may be some instances where it is beneficial to go back and look at childhood memories, you can make great strides in your healing process by just focusing on how your inner child is feeling and responding to the world around him/her today. So don’t let the fear of facing past memories stop you from incorporating the power of inner child work into your healing process. As a matter of fact, we encourage you to integrate inner child work into your healing process from the beginning as it can make your overall healing process more comfortable, effective and maybe even shorter!
For some survivors, the impact of their trauma is severe and may result in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). DID is characterized by two or more distinct identities or personalities that alternately control a person’s behavior along with unexplainable loss of memory or time. Again, this is a common result of extreme trauma and you are not alone!
While the healing process for DID has the same goal of full integration as we discussed with the wounded child above, because DID is more complex, we recommend that DID integration work be done with the help of a licensed mental health professional.
Best Practice #7 – Pre-Establish Your Response and Take Bold Action
Throughout the healing process, survivors have good days and bad days – good seasons and bad seasons. It’s important to create a foundation for health and safety ahead of time that you can fall back on when you struggle.
In Best Practice #3, we talked about Boundaries being at the heart of living a healthy life. Pre-establishing your response within the healing process is like setting Healing Boundaries. Without them, difficult times are filled with a myriad of subjective choices that are far too often hindered by feelings of fear, anger, abandonment, shame, depression and despair; your wounded inner child or a PTSD type response to a childhood memory.
Setting Healing Boundaries is a process of determining unhealthy states of being that do not support your intention for your life and deciding ahead of time when you’re in a good season what action you will take to get yourself out of that unhealthy state. These personalized boundaries provide a mechanism for objective decision making when you may not be thinking very clearly. Here are some examples:
When you pre-establish your response to unhealthy states of being and you take the identified action, it allows you to continue to choose based on your intention for your life rather than letting the past control you, even during difficult times. This process allows you to create the future you always dreamed of, one choice at a time.
Best Practice #8 – Provide Support and Resource Referrals
Talking is Power
When you first begin to associate with and talk to other survivors, “your story” will likely be one of doom and gloom – fear and anxiety – sorrow and pain – betrayal and abandonment – embarrassment and shame – hopelessness and helplessness. As you share your story with others, you will begin the process of letting go, releasing pent up emotions and leaving pieces of your past behind. You will learn that truth and transparency are essential to your healing. You will learn that peace comes from being truly known.
As you share your “early” story with other survivors, they too will learn. They will learn they are not alone. As you share what you’ve been through, the emotional scars that were left behind and the “crazy” habits you created in order to feel safe and in control, other survivors will hear “their story” in your words. They will move from feeling different to feeling the same. They will move from feeling isolated to feeling connected – maybe for the first time in their lives. They will be encouraged to begin their own healing process by sharing their story.
So even at the beginning of your healing process when you might feel like a blubbering idiot or a burden on those around you, please know that other survivors who have not yet found the courage to break their silence are watching and you are modeling for them what it looks like to heal.
As you engage in the process of intentional healing, you will learn to consciously observe your thoughts, feelings and behaviors and how your surroundings affect you. As time goes on, you will begin to see yourself and your world with more truth and clarity. You will begin to actually believe: you are good; you are worthy of being loved and cared for; you deserve to be happy and safe; and you can and will be whole again.
As you continue to associate with and talk to other survivors, your “healing story” will begin to reflectand reinforce your new belief system. As you share and celebrate your healing progress with others, you will inspire them to start and continue their process of intentional healing. How powerful is that?
Survivors with Purpose – Actively Sharing Your Story
You know how abuse happens. You know what makes children vulnerable. You know the grooming process. You know how perpetrators gain access to children. You know why children don’t tell. You know how children “cry out” for help. You know how bystanders miss or deny the obvious. You know how “the system” can save or fail our children. You are uniquely qualified to teach people how to prevent child sexual abuse.
There will come a time when you feel strong enough to share your “purpose driven story” with the aim of educating the public on how to prevent child sexual abuse and helping survivors heal. We encourage you to continue your intentional healing until you do feel strong enough.
As you move through your healing process, use this image of the upside down pyramid to help you envision how you will give back – one person at a time. Every survivor has the opportunity to be part of the resolution of the child sexual abuse pandemic. As you share your early story, your healing story and your purpose driven story, you will lift people up and give them the courage, strength, hope and fortitude to heal and the knowledge needed to protect children from the pain that you endured as a child. What a blessing in disguise!
Child Sexual Abuse Best Practices Summary
High profile cases are bringing child sexual abuse to the forefront in a way we have never seen in the past. It is clearly a pandemic that knows no boundaries including gender, race, religion, geography or socio-economic status. These cases are creating a unique opportunity for all survivors, young and old, to step forward and break their silence. Are you ready to take advantage of the opportunity?
Remember, your part in the resolution of the child sexual abuse pandemic is to heal. While it may seem self-serving initially, know that as you heal, you will be part of creating a future without abuse for your family, your community, your nation and the world. Our kids are counting on us all to do our part. Our kids are counting on you to heal and teach others through your story!
Sections of this page have been adapted from: TAALK.org