24 June 2009

Breaking the silence after sexual abuse

Many people remain silent about sexual abuse, and survivors can blame themselves.

Sexual abuse often goes unreported. Why do so many people remain silent when this happens to them?

According to Liezel van Schalkwyk, training and development coordinator at Rape Crisis, it can take several years before survivors of sexual abuse decide to report the crime.

Young children may not understand what is happening, especially when the perpetrator is an adult and someone they trust. They may sense that it is wrong, but because of the power imbalance and age difference, they feel helpless to do anything to stop it.

Sexual abuse is a secretive crime, often involving bribery and threats. Many times victims are constantly threatened not to tell anyone about the abuse.

It is common for survivors to blame themselves for what has happened. “If only I did this or that, it wouldn’t have happened or I could’ve stopped it” are common thoughts according to van Schalkwyk. It may take years before people start to accept that they are not to blame. Survivors are also afraid to report abuse because they fear that they will not be believed, said van Schalkwyk.

In order to survive, people often deny that the abuse had taken place and try to block out memories of the events. Without help, some survivors struggle to come to terms with what had happened and may develop problems such as eating disorders, depression or substance abuse, according to van Schalkwyk.

Sexual abuse has a huge effect on people’s ability to trust others, and some survivors may find it difficult to form relationships later in life.

For more information on sexual abuse and for telephone numbers of organisations in your area, contact Rape Crisis at (021) 447 1467.

(Ilse Pauw, Joanne hart, Health24, June 2009)

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