Are You SAD?
©2005 Kimberly Hartfield, B.S., M.S.
Sexual abuse of a child is any thing that exposes a child to any sexual purpose by anyone who has control over the child, without concern for the child’s well-being. Young children need to be aware of the difference between good and bad touching. Hugs and kisses are fine if you want them, but you never have to do everything an adult or another child tells you to do if they are trying to get you to do something that makes you feel “funny” or strange. You can and must say “no” to any touching or behavior that makes you feel bad or uncomfortable; and you should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible if something like this happens to you.
You should never be forced or coerced against your will into sexual activities by anyone. When you say no, then your no should be respected. If you are abused or assaulted in any way, the abuser has committed a crime and should be turned over to the proper authorities (police). The first step in recovery is for the victim to understand that the abuser betrayed her and to tell the secret to a trusted adult. When victims keep the secret, it makes it possible for the abuser to repeat the crime against her or others. In order to stop the abusive behavior, victims must be willing to speak out and reveal the identity of their abusers to someone they trust in authority.
Children also need to understand that sexual abuse or assault is not always carried out by a stranger or by an adult. Sometimes family members, close friends of the family, step parents, babysitters, and other children close to the same age, can be sexually abusive. Sometimes it is those we should be able to trust the most who are abusive. Whether you are at home or at a spend-the-night, you should always be properly supervised to ensure safety. Never secretly go into a room alone with someone, or secretly go away from those who are responsible for you.
Sexual abuse is a violation of trust, especially when the abuser is known to you. Sometimes when children are sexually abused by someone they know, the abuse may happen more than once. Other times the abuse may occur only once, such as a sexual assault (rape). Sometimes it may happen to young girls while going out with someone (date rape). If you are being abused, you must tell someone you trust. You can go to a parent, teacher, doctor, pastor, youth director, Sunday School teacher, or any other adult that you trust. You should know as well that even though you can usually trust these people, sometimes even these adults, may be abusers. Just because someone is in a position of authority does not mean he or she can not be an abuser. If that is the case, then find someone else who will listen and believe what you are telling them.
Abused children often do not trust anyone, which stops them from telling anyone about the abuse, sometimes for several years. The secret nature of childhood sexual abuse or a violent sexual assault is often the very thing that helps the abuse or assaults continue. When anything is done in secret, children sometimes believe it is something they may get in trouble for, and so they instinctively keep the secret. They often experience guilt and shame where there should be none, believing it was something that they did, too. The victim almost always feels that “I’m different,” “Something’s wrong with me,” or that the abuse is somehow “my fault.” If you are a victim, please understand that the abuse may continue and you will likely never completely heal if you continue to keep the abuse secret.
Because sexually abused children sometimes feel they can’t tell any one, they often “forget” the abuse, withdrawing from a conscious awareness of it. The abuse may be vaguely remembered by the victim, but certain experiences may trigger very unpleasant feelings and snapshot memories of the abusive situation. Sexual abuse is not something a child can face alone and be completely healthy mentally. Even if they have good parental, community, and spiritual resources, if they keep the abuse to themselves, then they may still have difficulty relating to others in a healthy way.
Telling the secret is the most important part of a victim’s healing process. The Bible tells us that the truth will set us free. Once the victim shares her story with someone she trusts, then that person can see to it that she gets help and that the abuser is not in a position to hurt others.
Responses to an account of childhood sexual abuse will vary depending on who the abuser is and who the victim tells. The hoped for response is one of understanding and support, but victims need to understand that this does not always occur. The shock sometimes causes people to respond in inappropriate ways. Some people simply may not believe your story if it is someone close to them. Even if they believe the abuse happened, some may tell the child to “keep the secret” if it is someone in or close to the family. Some responses will make light of the abuse as child’s play or sexual exploration if the abuser is not of adult age. Children who are exposed to pornography or sexual abuse themselves, often repeat the behaviors they see with other children. Another response is to blame the victim for being unacceptably dressed or behaving inappropriately. Victims should understand that it is not any fault of their own. If you are a victim and someone tells you not to tell anyone or tries to place blame on you, then keep going to someone else until somebody listens. Even if it has been several years, you should seek help in dealing with any issues you may still be facing. You should never stay in the abuse or remain in close contact with the abuser. Victims can find healing; but this usually happens only after several years in safe conditions.
Many victims display an outwardly happy-go-lucky character, while others display clear signals of distress. Those who know a victim should not assume that they are “over it”, just because the victim appears to be moving on with her life. Most victims feel sexual guilt, though they are not responsible for the actions of the abuser. With sexuality being an important part of the whole person, abuse or assault affects one’s total self-concept. The victim often develops upsetting emotions, beliefs, and conduct. The effects of sexual abuse or assault include low self-esteem, unexplained fear of certain people and places, anger, delinquent acting out, depression, suicidal behaviors, promiscuous sexual behavior, sexual disorders, substance or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and difficulty in close relationships. These may accompany feelings of mistrust, indifference, and/or hatred. If you are a victim and you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek help immediately.
If you are a sexually abused dependant of an abusive parent, step parent, or other relative, then you need to immediately seek help. You can contact any rape crisis center listed in your local telephone directory, or tell someone you trust to help get you out of the abusive situation. You may also contact Go Fish Ministries at
- State law that gives sexual assault victims a voice should be upheld (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- The Aftermath of Childhood Sexual Abuse (everydayhealth.com)