Healing from sexual abuse
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2023), in this country:
An estimated 2.8 million people aged 18 years and over (14%) have experienced sexual violence (assault and/or threat) since the age of 15.
Of women, 22% (2.2 million) experienced sexual violence, including:
- 20% (2.0 million) who experienced sexual assault
- 5.5% (544,700) who experienced sexual threat
Of men, 6.1% (582,400) experienced sexual violence, including:
- 5.1% (483,800) who experienced sexual assault
- 1.4% (137,900) who experienced sexual threat
An estimated 2.7 million people aged 18 years and over (14%) have experienced abuse (physical and/or sexual) by an adult before the age of 15.
Of women, 18% (1.7 million) experienced abuse during childhood, including:
- 11% (1.1 million) who experienced sexual abuse
- 10% (988,600) who experienced physical abuse
Of men, 11% (1.0 million) experienced abuse during childhood, including:
- 3.6% (343,500) who experienced sexual abuse
- 8.3% (788,400) who experienced physical abuse
The statistics above don’t include unreported incidents but can at least give you some estimate of how prevalent sexual violence is in our society.
It happens to people regardless of age, gender or orientation. The impact of sexual abuse goes beyond physical injuries. People who experience sexual violence carry trauma that might include nightmares, flashbacks and unpleasant memories. Their view of the world can become distorted, and survivors often feel unsafe (scanning the environment for threats), don’t trust others and generally don’t trust themselves and their judgment.
Feelings of guilt, shame and taking the blame for what has happened stay with people that experience this type of trauma. Negative self-cognition can include self-perception as “gross”, “dirty,” or “damaged”; this can be accompanied by feelings of helplessness and defectiveness. People who experience sexual abuse might have difficulties with forming and sustaining relationships, feel uncomfortable with intimacy, and develop various mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Is healing possible? Can I overcome what happened to me?
Yes, it is. I witness my clients’ recoveries in my therapy room and listen to stories of healing and transformation beyond expectations. I help clients overcome symptoms of recent and historic rape and sexual abuse with EMDR therapy. In my article What is EMDR therapy? I explain in more detail how this therapy works. I chose this modality for survivors of sexual trauma as it doesn’t involve retelling the story with painful details. You need to be able to connect with the memory or part of it, but you will share with me only an image, cognition and emotion associated with the event, not the whole traumatic narrative.
“Although words are indispensable in the treatment of trauma, they cannot substitute for the meticulous observation of how clients attempt to defend themselves in the present or how such defences were thwarted during the original traumatic event. Nor can words replace the empowering therapeutic facilitation of the physical defensive actions that were impossible to implement during the actual traumatic event” (Ogden, Minton and Pain 2006).
I am experienced in working with young people and adults that experience sexual violence, family members of survivors and relatives of perpetrators of sexual violence, and I know that healing is possible. I assist my clients in putting the blame where it belongs, with the perpetrator of sexual abuse. I help my clients process the guilt and shame associated with the experience. Therapy brings positive outcomes, e.g., nightmares stop, triggers become neutralised, and the incident/s stays in the past. My clients often say, “It is something that happened in the past,” “I am no longer bothered by the event”, “Now I know that I couldn’t have done more,” “It wasn’t my fault,” “I didn’t deserve it, nobody deserves it.”
“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think” (Kolk, 2014).
If the weight of trauma associated with sexual abuse affects your mind, brain and body, and you consider reaching out for help to become whole again, it’s time to start your journey to healing. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending broken objects using gold or silver. The Japanese believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful. You can become a new version of yourself, post-trauma, with scars but beautiful and whole.
Ania Harnden completed training with the “EMDR Training Australia and New Zealand”, a training provider that presents an EMDR training program authorised by Dr Francine Shapiro and her training institute, the EMDR Institute. Ania Harnden is a member of EMDR International Association (EMDRIA).
To book an appointment with Ania, select Online Booking or call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2023). Personal safety: Rates of physical and sexual assault, family and domestic violence, economic and emotional abuse, stalking, sexual harassment,
and childhood abuse. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/crime-and-justice/personal-safety-australia/latest-release
Bessel van der Kolk, (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.
Pat Ogden, Kekuni Minton, and Clare Pain (2006). Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy.