Sexual abuse is a secret that invades many areas of the victim’s life. Most victims keep abuse hidden for multiple reasons. The revelation of this experience will have a disruptive impact on family members as well as on the perpetrator and sometimes on the community as a whole.
Ironically, victims often feel guilty about abuse and assume responsibility for provoking sexual attention. However, it is important to realize that it is the perpetrator who has taken advantage of the victim’s vulnerability or young age. The victim’s confusion and feelings of guilt are often complicated by the fact that most abuse is perpetrated by someone familiar to the victim, even a family member or close friend.
While the victim hides the secret of sexual abuse, she/he protects the family and the assailant. Through protecting others, the victim is really sowing seeds of self-destruction. Victims of sexual abuse become vulnerable to a poor self-image and unsatisfying relationships with family members and with potential romantic partners. Through feelings of abandonment and betrayal, the victim may find it very difficult to establish trust in any close relationship. Sometimes, the victim may come to reject his/her own masculine/feminine identity. These consequences of abuse may persist until the victim takes steps to deal with them.
You can help sexual abuse victims. If a family member or friend suddenly becomes withdrawn, sullen, or overly fearful, you can affirm your concern and suggest professional help.
If you are the keeper of a damaging secret – be your own friend and seek help for yourself.