The first week of May is dedicated to increasing public awareness about the triumphs and challenges in children’s mental health and emphasizing the importance of family and youth involvement in the children’s mental health movement. Many National Organizations (The American Art Therapy Association, SAMSHA, and The National Federation for Children’s Mental Health) invites statewide organizations and the community to use the week of May 1-7, 2011 to promote positive mental health, well-being and social development for all children and youth. RCASA is joining with these organizations to tell the community about the impact of sexual abuse on children’s mental health.
Historically, sexual abuse of children was disregarded as a “family problem” and none of the communities business. If addressed legally, it was often by a reluctant criminal justice system. In recent years, however, both the mental health system and the criminal justice system have begun to understand child sexual abuse as both a criminal justice problem and a mental health concern. The realization now is that child sexual abuse is a pervasive social problem that impacts the survivor, the family, and the community. Communities are starting to realize the frequency with which it occurs and the long-term impact of trauma on victims and families who have experienced sexually violent crime.
The significant impact of early victimization is the risk the victim has of developing subsequent psychological problems. Multiple clinical studies and finding document high rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, dissociative disorders, interpersonal dysfunction, sexual problems and Suicidality among child sexual abuse survivors. Many things can impact the severity of psychological and psychosocial problems for each individual victim (age of the victim at the time of the crime, the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, whether the crime was coercive or physically violent, the years the abuse occurred are some of the factors).
In addition to mental health issues, sexual abuse can distort a child’s self-concept, distort the child’s orientation to the world, disrupt normal sexual development and impact the child’s resiliency. For some children, short-term support and intervention is enough on their path to recovery. However, other children will continue to experience symptoms such as feelings of anxiety, nightmares, develop phobias, exhibit clinging behavior, display depression and voice suicidal thoughts, use alcohol or drugs to dampen their symptoms and engage in self-destructive behaviors.
It is unquestionable the significance that sexual abuse has on a child. The impact is on the community as well. There can no longer be a question of whether child sexual abuse is only a criminal justice problem or only a social services problem or only a mental health problem. It is all: criminal/social/mental/individual/medical. As professionals, we must all resolve to overcome any lingering skepticism with acknowledgment, overcome feelings of disbelief with understanding, fight indifference and commit to intervening to end violence against our children.
Here at RCASA, we are committed to helping children who are survivors of sexual violence heal. We offer comprehensive services for children and utilize therapy techniques that are age appropriate to help process through their trauma. For more information please contact our counseling department at 540-371-5502, or visit our website at www.rcasa.org.