What is childhood abuse?
Child abuse can include neglect as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse; in many cases people experience more than one type of abuse. In many cases people experience more than one type of abuse. It’s important to remember that if you were abused as a child it’s not your fault or because of anything that you did. Abusive behaviour towards children is always wrong and never the child’s fault.
Around 1 in 4 adults, both male and female, have experienced abuse as a child. Some victims find that with the support of their family and friends they are able to move on from their childhood abuse. But for many survivors, talking about the abuse to someone who is professional, caring and independent, is an important part of recovering from the impact of the crime.
What is the impact of childhood abuse?
Childhood abuse can affect people in different ways. You may have reported the abuse as a child, never spoken to anyone about it or only recently remembered the abuse. However, as an adult you may find the fear and negative emotions associated with the abuse may return or be triggered by life experiences such as becoming a parent, a bereavement or an unrelated crime.
Abuse in childhood can also leave you feeling very confused. You may be questioning your own memories of the abuse, or wondering if you could have done something to stop what happened. It’s important to remember that you were a child and the abuser manipulated you in order to harm you.
Survivors may also feel guilty because as a result of abuse, they have engaged in risk taking or unhealthy behaviours. These may include alcohol or substance abuse, criminal activity or avoiding medical help. These are common responses to childhood abuse, and support services will understand this and help you develop positive coping strategies.
Not everybody who has experienced childhood abuse will also experience emotional or mental health difficulties. However it’s estimated that over 50% of people may have the following symptoms that last into adulthood:
- post-traumatic stress
- sleep disorders
- self-harm and/or suicidal thoughts.
Childhood abuse can also have an impact on your physical health and can show itself in many ways.
Support for victims of childhood abuse
Opening up about childhood abuse can be incredibly difficult. You may have kept your experience secret for years and are worried about the effect it will have on your family and other people around them.
If you were abused by someone you know or love, the effects may be even greater. As well as the experience itself, you’ve had your trust broken at an early point in your life and this can have lasting negative effects on your relationships with other people and be a barrier to developing a positive sexual identity.
Many survivors find that talking to a specialist agency or independent person, such as a GP, is a first step to understanding what has happened and working out how to move forward.
You can find organisations who can provide you with support to empower and help you recover from the impact of the abuse by using our directory on the left-hand side of this page.