Student Wellbeing Services
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The term sexual abuse most commonly refers to the involvement of a young person below the age of sixteen in sexual activity with a significantly older person. Usually the victim of the abuse cannot understand fully the implications of what is happening at the time. Sexual abuse can be an isolated or a recurrent event. The activities involved can range from inappropriate comments or touching to sexual penetration. The abuse can be disguised as play or it may be a more overt assault. The abuser may be a relative, an acquaintance or a stranger. While the abuse is often frightening and traumatic at the time it occurs, some feelings may not fully impact until a later date when the occurrence is better understood. Sometimes the experience of abuse appears to be wholly or partially forgotten for some years while the survivor continues with their life. Memories may resurface when the person is settled in a safe environment, or may be triggered by specific events such as beginning a sexual relationship or becoming a parent.
Victims of abuse often experience some or all of the following symptoms and feelings: anxiety, depression, shame, guilt, fear of telling and/or fear of not being believed, feelings of isolation, loneliness, negative feelings about themselves, anger, difficulties trusting others and building relationships in the here and now, flashback, nightmares, sexual problems.
Ways to cope with sexual abuse, or memories of sexual abuse:
Try not to blame yourself . No matter what the circumstances of the sexual abuse of a child or young person, it is never the fault or responsibility of that person. Even if you feel in hindsight that you wish you had been able to act differently, this does not lessen the absolute truth that is the duty of adults to care for children and young people and to protect them from exploitation.
Take care of yourself now . The fact that something bad has been done to you is not a reason to deny yourself pleasure, or to punish yourself. It is in fact a reason to care for yourself. If you can learn to treat your body with respect and kindness, you will help the healing process. Look for simple ways to show care for yourself and kindness to your body. If you find you are tempted to harm yourself, for example by starving or overindulging, by cutting yourself or even by attempting suicide, seek help and support, e.g. from the counselling service or your GP.
Find appropriate outlets for your feelings . If you have been abused you have a perfectly good reason to be very angry and full of grief. It can be hard to know what to do with these feelings. It may not be possible or helpful to express them to the person responsible. Even if you do, he or she may well fail to accept responsibility. Feelings can be helped by finding others who will listen to your story sympathetically and help you express yourself. Writing down what you feel can help, and/or speak to someone in the counselling service.
Other sources of support/information:
Mankind - www.mankind.org.uk offers support for men who have been abused.
Safeline - www.safelinewarwick.co.uk offers support for survivors of sexual abuse.
Survivors - www.survivorsuk.org offers support to men or boys who have been sexually assaulted.
Women's Aid - www.womensaid.org.uk supports a network of domestic and sexual violence services.
Lancaster University Mental Health and Wellbeing Advisor on - 01524 594512 (Sue Crookall) or 01524 592692 (Stacey Spencer) http://www.lancs.ac.uk/sbs/mentalhealth/