Adolescent Sexual Abuse & PTSD

The Numbers Are Staggering

The statistics indicate that sexual and physical abuse of children and adolescents is alarmingly high. In the United States alone hundreds of thousands of children are sexually and physically abused-usually by a parent or close relative. Some of these children die because of the abuse. For those who survive, the emotional and mental trauma and damage remains long after the physical signs of abuse have healed. Often signs of physical or sexual abuse of children do not manifest until the child reaches adolescence-and for some not until they reach adulthood.

Signs Of Sexual Abuse And PTSD In Young Children

Abused children often display signs of poor self-image, sexual acting out, and self-abusive or self-destructive behaviours. They often have thoughts of suicide, are aggressive, disruptive, and may be involved in illegal practices. The inability to trust or love others causes them to become withdrawn, passive, or perhaps clingy. Fear of relationships, anxiety, nightmares, sleep problems, and flashbacks may plague a child who has been abused. Many suffer with problems in school and a constant sense of failure, sadness and other symptoms of depression.

The result of a catastrophic event, such as sexual abuse, most often develops into PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder), which is related to the severity of trauma, whether it is repeated, and the child/adolescent’s relationship to the perpetrator. The symptoms of PTSD may last for months or years, and can result in adults who suffer with PTSD. Men and women with untreated PTSD because of sexual abuse often have trouble being in or staying in relationships, they are at higher risk for substance abuse, depression, anxiety, mental and medical illness, and may have difficulties at work.

When An Adolescent Has PSTD

An adolescent who has been subjected to sexual abuse and has PTSD may re-experience the trauma through frequent flashbacks and memories of the event(s). They often endure nightmares and the feeling that the abuse is either happening or going to happen over again. They may develop either physical or emotional symptoms repeatedly when reminded of the trauma.

Youth with PTSD may worry about dying young. They often lose interest in activities and drop out of group events. Headaches, stomachaches, irritability, and anger along with sudden and/or extreme emotional reactions are common symptoms. Problems concentrating and staying focused are also symptoms of PTSD. Adolescents who suffer with PTSD because of sexual abuse may become abusers themselves. They can be violent and get involved with others who resolve their emotional trauma through violence, addictions, and abuse.

Trauma Treatment Is Essential

Once trauma has occurred, early intervention is essential. However, even if the abuse has not been treated early, it is still treatable. In either situation, support from parents, school, and the adolescent’s peer group is important. There are many clinics, programs, techniques, and therapies available today to help a young person expose and deal with the issues of sexual abuse and PTSD.

With the right help and the sensitivity and support of both family and professionals, an adolescent with PTSD can overcome the issues and go on to lead a healthy and productive life.

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