Possible Life Span Signs and Symptoms Associated with Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Infancy and Early Childhood Under 4 Years
Fearful
• Night terrors Loneliness
• Shame
• Clinging behavior
Developmental delay
• Suspicious physical findings
• Staring blankly
• Mood swings
• Cruelty to others
• Whining
Withdrawn
• Secretive
• Daydreaming
• Sexual preoccupation

Middle and Late Childhood 5 – 10 Years
• Sudden onset of anxiety
• Depression
• Insomnia
• Conversion hysteria
• Weight gain/loss
• Sudden school failure
• Truancy
• Run-away
• Sudden irritability
• Excessive bathing
• Psychosomatic problems
• Suspicious physical findings
• Staring blankly
• Cruelty to others
• Mood swings
• Withdrawn
• Lying
• Cheating
• Secretive
• Daydreaming
• Sexual preoccupation
• Seductiveness

Early Adolescence 11 – 14 Years
• Guilt
Low self-esteem
• Isolation
• Poor body image
• Staring blankly
• Cruelty to others
• Mood swings
• Withdrawn
• Lying
• Cheating
• Aggression
• Secretive
• Daydreaming
• Sexual preoccupation
• Low sexual self-esteem
• Fear of homosexuality
Sexual abuse of younger children

Late Adolescence 15 – 17 Years
• Self-depreciation
• Prostitution
• Promiscuity
• Depression
Social isolation
• High rebellion
• Pregnancy
Venereal disease
Drug abuse
• Acting out
• Anorexia
• Aggression
• Seductiveness
• Sexual preoccupation
• Low sexual self-esteem
• Sexual abuse of younger children

Adult 18 Years +
• Figidity
• Conversion hysteria
• Promiscuity
• Prostitution
• Phobias
• Suicide attempt
• Psychotic behavior
• Low self-confidence
• Low self-esteem
• Guilty feelings of defenselessness
• Feelings of worthlessness
• Seductiveness
• Sexual preoccupation
• Sexual abuse of others

Remember that lists such as these should be carefully regarded. You will note that many of the behaviors might be associated with many other causes and in some instances can be associated with “normal” behavior. It is critical to carefully consider the full range of information about any case.

From: Dr. Pamela Langelier, Vermont Family Forensic Institute, 1989

Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

The tragic reality is that any time a mother is abused by her partner; the children are also affected in both overt and subtle ways. What hurts the mother hurts the children. Children do not have to be physically or verbally abused to be injured by domestic violence. Hearing or seeing the abuse of one parent by the other takes a huge toll on the children. Even if they don’t see the beating, they see the bruises, broken bones, and abrasions. In homes where domestic violence occurs, fear, instability, and confusion replace the love, comfort, and nurturing the children need. These children live in constant fear of physical harm from the person who is supposed to care for and protect them.

While many children experience difficulties resulting from their exposure to violence, many children appear to cope with the experiences and show fewer problems than in comparison to other children. This is likely because the level of violence in families and children’s exposure to it can vary greatly. Further research is needed in order to draw blanket conclusions about the effects of domestic violence on children.

Children who witness domestic violence display various emotional, physical, and behavioral disturbances.

  • Witnessing parental abuse produces feelings of anger, fear, guilt, shame, confusion, and helplessness. When the community fails to offer protection and support, children also feel undervalued and worthless.
  • Children may express these emotions as withdrawal, low self-esteem, nightmares, regressive behavior, or aggression against peers, family members, and property.
  • Child witnesses to domestic violence often suffer physical problems, such as bed-wetting, insomnia, colds and diarrhea.
  • Children often suffer developmental delays in verbal, cognitive, and motor abilities when they live in homes with domestic violence. Learning disabilities are common.

Domestic violence disrupts children’s lives.

  • Children’s living arrangements are often disrupted when a parent is fleeing the abuser. Moving to unfamiliar surroundings can add to the stress.
  • Children and their mother may suffer financially when they flee the abusive parent.
  • School performance may suffer if the child is distracted or tries to remain at home to protect the mother.
  • Many children in families where domestic violence has occurred appear to be “parentified” or “spousified.” They are forced to grow up faster than peers, often taking on the responsibility of cooking, cleaning, and caring for younger children while the mother attempts to deal with the trauma.
  • Children may also be isolated. Typical activities such as having friends over to their house may not be possible due to the chaotic atmosphere. However, school performance is not always obviously affected. Children may respond by being overachievers.

Symptomology of Domestic Violence on Children

Symptomology of Domestic Violence on Children

Ongoing parental conflict and violence in childhood were significant predictors of serious personal crimes in adulthood, including assault, rape, murder, and kidnapping.

 

0-1 Years

  • Withdrawn
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hyperactive
  • Failure to thrive
  • Eating disorders
  • Physical injuries

 

2-5 Years

 

6-9 Years

  • Suicidal ideation/attempts
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Fire setting
  • Running away
  • Depression
  • Low self esteem
  • Poor social skills

 

10-12 Years

 

13-17 Years

  • Poor impulse control
  • Confrontational
  • Engage in pecking order battering with mothers or siblings
  • Align with abuser to avoid being a victim
  • Dating violence

 

As they grow, children form assumptions about the world in which they live. Is their world consistent and predictable or chaotic and unsafe?

Domestic violence creates inordinate stresses in a child’s life.

 

Every child responds differently to witnessing or directly experiencing domestic violence. This is dependent on their temperament, usual coping mechanisms, developmental stage, and support systems. Some children may respond with internalized symptoms such as regression and social isolation. Others may develop externalized negative behaviors that include nightmares, hyperactivity, aggression, and delinquency.

 

  • Studies suggest that between 3.3 – 10 million children witness domestic violence a year.
  • Children in homes with domestic violence are 15 times more likely to experience child abuse.
  • 50-70% of children exposed to domestic violence suffer from PTSD – more than Vietnam Veterans
  • Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to exhibit behavioral and physical health problems including depression, anxiety, and violence toward peers. They are also more likely to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away from home, engage in teenage prostitution, and commit sexual assault crimes.
  • Children in homes with domestic violence may “indirectly” receive injuries. They may be hurt when household items are thrown or weapons are used. Infants may be injured if being held by the mother when the batterer strikes out.
  • As children grow into teenagers, they exhibit higher levels of delinquency and violent behavior than those in non-violent homes.
  • Because of the shame of shelter living, moving, changing schools, fitting in with peers, and making new friends, teens face unique challenges. This can result in never learning to form trusting, lasting relationships, or ending up in violent relationships themselves.

Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Assault

Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Assault

CAVEAT: The following descriptions are meant to serve as a general guideline for how a victim of sexual assault might react in a time of pain or crisis. It is important to recognize, however, that each victim of sexual assault will have his or her own life experiences and personality that will influence how he or she react to the assault.

Reactions

There are many reactions that survivors of rape and sexual assault can have. But for adult survivors of childhood abuse there are reactions that may either be different or stronger than for other survivors. These include:

Setting Limits/Boundaries
  • Because your personal boundaries were invaded when you were young by someone you trusted and depended on, you may have trouble understanding that you have the right to control what happens to you.
Memories/Flashbacks
  • Like many survivors, you may experience flashbacks.
Anger
  • This is often the most difficult emotion for an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse to get in touch with.
  • As a child your anger was powerless and had little to no effect on the actions of your abuser. For this reason you may not feel confident that you anger will be useful or helpful.
Grieving/Mourning
  • Being abused as a child means the loss of many things- childhood experiences, trust, innocence, normal relationship with family members (especially if the abuser was a family member).
    • You must be allowed to name those losses, grieve them, and then bury them.
Guilt, Shame, and Blame
  • You may carry a lot of guilt because you may have experienced pleasure or because you did not try to stop the abuse.
  • There may have been silence surrounding the abuse that led to feelings of shame.
  • It is important for you to understand that it was the adult who abused his/her position of authority and should be held accountable, not you.
Trust
  • Learning to trust again may be very difficult for you.
  • You may find that you go from one extreme to the other, not trusting at all to trusting too much.
Coping Skills
  • You have undoubtedly developed skills in order to cope with the trauma.
    • Some of these are healthy (possibly separating yourself from family members, seeking out counseling, etc.)
    • Some are not (drinking or drug abuse, promiscuous sexual activity, etc.)
Self-esteem/Isolation
  • Low self-esteem is a result of all of the negative messages you received and internalized from your abusers.
  • Because entering into an intimate relationship involves trust, respect, love, and the ability to share, you may flee from intimacy or hold on too tightly for fear of losing the relationship.
Sexuality
  • You likely have to deal with the fact that your first initiation into sex came as a result of sexual abuse.
  • You may experience the return of body memories while engaging in a sexual activity with another person. Such memories may interfere in your ability to engage in sexual relationships which may leave you feeling frightened, frustrated, or ashamed.

Reference
This section was adapted from materials provided by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Reactions to Sexual Assault: The Victim Response

Reactions to Sexual Assault: “Victim Response”

 

Most sexual assault survivors are recovering from a life-threatening experience. They often think “if they can do this to me, they can kill me.”

 

Every survivor of sexual assault responds uniquely to the assault, just as the recovery process is different for each individual. Below is a sampling of common symptoms that survivors often experience at various points after the sexual assault.

 

PHYSICAL

  • · Eating disorders
  • · Fatigue
  • · Gastrointestinal irritability (nausea, vomiting)
  • · Headaches
  • · Muscular tension and/or spasms
  • · Nightmares
  • · Physical injuries (cuts, bruises, broken bones, etc.)
  • · Pregnancy
  • · Sleep disturbances
  • · Somatic illness
  • · Soreness
  • · Venereal disease

 

EMOTIONAL

  • · Anger
  • · Anxiety
  • · Calm
  • · Composed
  • · Denial
  • · Depression
  • · Despair
  • · Embarrassment
  • · Guilt
  • Helplessness
  • · Hopelessness
  • · Humiliation
  • · Irritability
  • · Laughter
  • · Low self-esteem
  • · Mood swings
  • · Numbness
  • · Obsessive Compulsive tendencies
  • · Phobias
  • · Powerlessness
  • · Sadness
  • · Sense of disbelief
  • · Sense of unreality
  • · Shame
  • · Shock
  • · Vulnerability

 

THOUGHTS

  • · What will people think?
  • · Will they blame me?
  • · Will others reject me?
  • · Why did this happen to me?
  • · Am I damaged goods?
  • · Why me?
  • · What if I had/had not done….”
  • · Confusion
  • · Flashbacks
  • · Difficulty concentrating
  • · If I forget about it, it will go away
  • · Bad things happen to bad people. Good things happen to good people.
  • · I deserved it because….

 

SOCIAL

  • · Withdrawal
  • · Afraid to be alone
  • · Uncomfortable around other people
  • · Afraid/nervous in crowds
  • · Difficulty trusting others
  • · Hypersensitive when relating to others
  • · Afraid to leave the house (especially alone)
  • · Less productive
  • · Difficult time getting things accomplished
  • · Difficult time relaxing
  • · Disruption in sexual relations
  • · Difficulty with intimacy
  • · Difficulties/apprehension around people, especially if they look like the assailant.

 

 

Adapted from Assault Crisis Center, Ann Arbor, MI 48014

DVIP: Behavioral Characteristics of a Domestic Violence Batterer

Behavioral Characteristics of a Domestic Violence Batterer

 

Batterers are found in all socioeconomic, educational, ethnic, racial, and age groups.

 

Batterers

  • Use psychological, verbal, and physical abuse, including sexual abuse.
  • Engage in excessive minimization and denial.

 

The batterer is characterized by:

  • Poor impulse control, limited tolerance for frustration, explosive temper – rage. Constantly demonstrating but often successfully masking anger.
  • Stress disorders and psychosomatic complaints; sophistication of symptoms and success at masking dysfunction vary with social and educational levels.
  • Emotional dependency – subject to secret depressions known only to family.
  • Limited capacity for delayed reinforcement – very “now” oriented.
  • Insatiable ego needs and qualities of childlike narcissism (not generally detectable to people outside family group).
  • Low self-esteem; perceives unachieved ideals and goals for self; disappointment in career, even if successful by others’ standards.
  • Qualities which suggest great potential for change and improvement; i.e., makes frequent “promises” for the future.
  • Perception of self as having poor social skills; describing relationship with mate as the closest he has ever known while remaining in contact with his family of origin.
  • Accusations against mate, jealousy, voicing great fear of abandonment or “being cheated on,” possessive, controlling, hovering behavior.
  • Fearfulness that partner and/or children will abandon; fear of being alone.
  • Containment of mate and employment of espionage tactics against her (checking mileage/times, errands); cleverness depends on level of sophistication.
  • Violating others’ personal boundaries; accepts no blame for failure (marital, familial, or occupational) or for violent acts.
  • Belief that forcible behavior aimed at securing the family nucleus is for the good of the family.
  • Absence of guilt on an emotional level even after intellectual recognition.
  • Generational history of abuse.
  • Frequently participating in pecking order battering.
  • Assaultive skills which improve with age and experience (increase in danger potential and lethality risks to family members over time).
  • Demanding and oftentimes assaultive role in sexual activities; sometimes punishes with abstinence; occasionally experiencing impotence.
  • Increasingly assaultive behavior when the mate is pregnant – pregnancy often marks the first assault.
  • Exerting control over mate by threatening homicide and/or suicide. Often attempts one or both when partners separate – known to complete either or both.
  • Frequently using children as “pawns” and exerting power and control through custody issues; may kidnap children or hold them hostage.

 

Profile of MALE Abuser

Abusers may have some or all of the following characteristics:

 

  • Excessively jealous
  • Isolates victim (she may rarely go anywhere alone; visitors rarely allowed)
  • Controls victim (makes all decisions; demands accounting of time & actions)
  • Denies beatings or minimizes severity
  • May be more violent when she is pregnant or soon after birth
  • Blames victim for his abusive behavior
  • Uses verbal abuse with physical abuse (insults, mind games, etc.)
  • If victim leaves, he does whatever it takes to get her back (apologizes, sends flowers, cries, begs forgiveness, begs her to come home, promises to get counseling)
  • When victim returns, promises are systematically broken
  • Jekyll and Hyde personality
  • From a dysfunctional family
  • Low/No self-esteem (builds himself up at victim’s expense)
  • Thinks he’s never wrong and never lies – knows everything and everyone
  • Believes myths about abuse
  • Strongly believes in traditional sex roles
  • Feels persecuted – maybe mentally ill
  • Treats victim like a servant/very demanding
  • Must always have his way
  • Reacts violently to criticism
  • Preaches his own religion
  • Is very creative, imaginative and artistic
  • Is capable of fooling untrained authorities (doctors, lawyers, judges)
  • Is in control of his abuse (can – and does – become suddenly civil if someone walks in on the abuse; will only injure to a certain point – that which will ensure compliance)

Profile of FEMALE Victim

Victims may have some or all of the following characteristics:

 

  • Socially isolated – lonely
  • Blames herself for the beatings
  • Accepts responsibility for her abuser’s behavior
  • Feels she has no power or control
  • Feels ambivalent or confused
  • Embarrassed to admit she is being abused or that she is in a violent, abusive relationship – denial
  • Low/No Self-esteem
  • Believes she cannot survive alone
  • Is highly stressed – terrified – fighting to stay alive
  • Exhibits stress-related physical ailments or problems
  • Believes myths about abuse
  • Denies her anger over the abuse – but explodes over minor irritations
  • Exhibits depression
  • Is fearful of many things, like making a mistake
  • Believes in traditional sex roles
  • Puts needs/feelings of others far above her own
  • Mood is determined by abuser’s disposition
  • Unable to make a decision without abuser’s approval
  • Believes that nothing can ever help her
  • Does what it takes to survive – lies, denies, defends abuser
  • Endures additional abuse to protect children
  • Prays silently