Research from the NSPCC found that 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused. What does the future hold for those thousands of survivors?
Specialist child sex abuse solicitor, Gemma Pilkington, explores research into the long-term effects of child sexual abuse and explains how the effects are in direct conflict with the 3-year compensation time limit imposed on survivors.
What Is Child Sexual Abuse?
To understand the long-term psychological effects of abuse, it is important to determine exactly what child sexual abuse is. Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is when a child or young person is pressurised or tricked into taking part in anything sexual by an adult or another child.
Child sexual abuse includes:
- Inappropriate kissing
- Touching a child inappropriately
- Encouraging a child to touch another child or adult inappropriately
- Sexual intercourse (including oral sex)
- Encouraging children to watch porn
- Sexual talk
- Exposing genitals to children
Whether direct contact is made or not makes no difference. Activity of a sexual nature with a child that doesn’t involve contact is still classed as child sexual abuse and can still have similar psychological outcomes for the child involved.
Short-Term Effects Of Child Sexual Abuse
If there is a child in your life who you suspect is suffering from child sexual abuse, there are signs that would suggest this is the case.
Indicators of child sexual abuse include whether the child:
- Stays away from certain people or appear frightened to see someone
- Shows sexual behaviour that is inappropriate for their age
- Has physical symptoms such as genital soreness or Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STIs)
It is important to be wary of indicators if you are concerned about a child in your life. If you do suspect child sexual abuse, it is important to contact the police. If you do not feel comfortable doing this, you can contact the NSPCC to report abuse to a specialist counsellor.
Long-Term Psychological Effects Of Child Sexual Abuse
The psychological effects of child sexual abuse do not end when the abuse stops and can often result in long-term effects that continue to have impact throughout a survivor’s life.
There can be both physical and emotional issues after experiencing sexual abuse as a child.
Problems Regulating Emotion
Research has found that abuse in childhood can contribute towards the potential of having depression, anxiety and addictions later on in life. In a study carried out by Harvard Medical School, it was found that survivors often struggle with:
“…the inability to regulate emotions like rage and terror, along with intense suicidal feelings, somatic disorder, negative self-perception, poor relationships, chronic feelings of isolation, despair and hopelessness; and dissociation and amnesia.”
When abuse has taken place as a child, there are often feelings of guilt and shame associated. As a result, survivors of child sexual abuse can struggle hugely with self-esteem, feeling like they are damaged or inadequate because of what they went through.
Difficulties With Relationships
People who have been abused as children can sometimes struggle with trust. This can then lead to a difficulty in maintaining relationships at any age as there is a fear of being controlled.
Sexual abuse as a child can also lead to a skewed idea of healthy interactions and boundaries, which can also lead to difficulties in future relationships.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
In research carried out by The Rockerfeller University in New York, it was found that children who had been abused experienced a biologically different form of PTSD than those who develop the condition as a result of a different type of trauma later in life. As a result of this study, it is believed that:
“it is essential to take into account the trauma history of an individual. Individuals with the same diagnosis might need different treatments depending on their environmental endowments together with their genetic predispositions.”
This means that those who have PTSD from child sexual abuse may well need different treatment to those who have PTSD for other traumatic experiences.
Help For Child Sexual Abuse Survivors
Whilst the long-term side effects of child sexual abuse seem bleak, there are many places to turn for help. Accepting that you are struggling with experiences from the past is the first step to helping feelings of isolation. Whilst it may be one of the hardest steps, there are many avenues to take.
Help For Adult Victims Of Child Abuse is a dedicated charity for adults who are struggling with their experiences of sexual abuse as a child. It is run by survivors of child sexual abuse and provides hundreds of useful pages to support those in recovery.
One in Four specialises in supporting victims of sexual violence and abuse. They provide long-term and low-cost counselling for men and women over the age of 18. They also provide survivors an outlet to voice their stories through a network of healthcare professionals and other victims of abuse.
The Survivors Trust is a UK-wide agency for over 100 specialist organisations that support those who have suffered sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse. They provide support to those affected by sexual abuse and raise awareness about the effects of abuse.
3-Year Time Limit For Child Sexual Abuse Survivors
There is a 3-year time limit for personal injuries, where a claimant must come forward to make a claim within the 3 years of the event taking place. One of the exceptions to this rule is if the ‘injury’ took place as a child, the 3 year time limit begins at the age of 18. This rule also applies to those who are survivors of child sexual abuse.
In Scotland, the 3-year time limit for child sexual abuse survivors has been relaxed due to the psychological effects of abuse. Because trust becomes an issue for those who have suffered abuse, twinned with a sense of guilt and shame, it is common for abuse victims to remain silent about their experiences far into adulthood.
However, in the rest of the UK, the 3-year time limit for child sexual abuse victims still remains. There are some exceptions to the rule but at the moment, each case wishing to come forward beyond the 3-years must be taken into account on an individual basis.
Can Abuse Law Help Me With A Compensation Claim For Abuse Beyond The 3-Year Time Limit?
It is still possible to claim for damages cause by child sexual abuse beyond the 3-year time limit and we at Abuse Law have been successful in securing compensation for those in that situation. It is worth speaking to a specialist abuse solicitor to find out whether you could be entitled to compensation. At Abuse Law, we can also provide guidance on where to find help if you are suffering from the long-term psychological effects of child sexual abuse.
“The 3-year time limit is an extremely unfair expectation for survivors of child sexual abuse. The effects of the abuse mean that survivors rarely come forward within that time frame.”
“What is most sad about the 3-year time limit as it stands is that when a survivor eventually comes forward, for them to be denied the chance to tell their story and be heard is damaging to their recovery.”
“To those suffering with the long-term psychological effects of child abuse, there is help available. Don’t cope alone because there is no need and there are people who will listen to your story without judgement and with empathy.”