The abuse of children is abhorrent to most people, least of all contemplating that the abuse they have suffered is sexual abuse. So abhorrent, that even in a time when there have been numerous high profile cases, to write a blog about the subject still requires a preparatory inhalation of breath. It being Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness week is an ideal opportunity for Chrysalis Care to reinforce the message that #itisnotok.
Some children and young people who enter the care system, have experienced sexual abuse and have to live with the after effects and our foster carers invest their lives in helping children and young people heal from such experiences.
Often when considering sexual abuse, people can focus too much on the ‘sexual’ and not enough on the ‘abuse’, leading to making assumptions about how a child or young person may be affected, for instance expecting them to demonstrate sexualised behaviour, which can happen but often does not.
In many ways, it’s the emotional abuse that inevitably accompanies sexual abuse that lingers within a child’s self concept and identity and influences how they feel about themselves and others and this is the focus within this blog.
Here are five that may manifest in a child who has been sexually abused:
- Poor self worth – experiencing sexual abuse may leave a child feeling unsure of their value. They may feel a strong sense of ‘wrongness’, which may cause them to think negatively about themselves. Their abuse may have been accompanied by a narrative that reinforces their worthlessness, distorting the view that they have of themselves.
- Mistrust of others – this may seem obvious, given that abuse is where an adult has abused the trust that a child had not only in them but in what an ‘adult’ represents to them in their lives. At an extremely deep level, mistrust can be extremely painful to negotiate in every day life, as the child may struggle to form relationships with certainty.
- Unpredictable communication – in many ways, this is influenced by 1. and 2. above. Feeling unsure who to trust, not wanting to risk trusting and feeling that they have little value can mean that a child or young person is unanchored and unpredictable. One could say that this unpredictability is a reflection of how uncertain and perhaps even chaotic, the child feels on the inside.
- Controlling behaviours – this can manifest in a range of ways, from disordered eating patterns, to self harming behaviour, to destructive or limiting compulsions and of course, manipulative communication with others. Imagine having something happen to you, where you had no say, no voice, no choice? This can lead a child or young person to understandably need to control situations, circumstances, people and things.
- Poor concentration – a child or young person who has been abused, may be plagued by flashbacks, memories and voices that distract their thinking and impair their concentration. This can trigger all sorts of additional problems, such as disengagement from school, fears around mental health, insomnia and perhaps the need to ‘block out’ the distractions via unhealthy activities.
Of course, this is a mere snapshot highlighting some of the challenges faced by a child or young person who has experienced sexual abuse, which at least may encourage deeper thinking about how these challenges may affect the life of the child.
At Chrysalis Care, foster carers are encouraged and equipped to look beneath presenting behaviours and preconceived notions about how experiences will affect the fostered child or young person. The assessment and pre-approval training, for people who want to become a foster carer and the ongoing learning and development programme, supervision and support for approved foster carers, helps them to respond to the needs of children and young people who are fostered, including those who have been sexually abused.
To help children and young people reclaim their lives, visit our website, take a tour and express your interest.