Hello, we started this series on childhood sexual molestation some weeks back with the story of Ijeoma. You can read the last episode from here.
In this article, I am looking at the effects of childhood sexual molestation and abuse, why do we have the consequences and its effects on adulthood.
Effects Of Childhood Sexual molestation
The narrative below is my first interaction with Ijeoma. It started with a “Dear Davina” letter. Davina initially dealt with the letter and then passed it to me since I was in the midst of researching and getting ready for this series of articles.
First I start with the letter that started the discourse and then I will deal with the matter in greater details later.
I have been reading a lot of your advice on issues and I appreciate your words of encouragement which has also encouraged me to share my story.
My name is Ijeoma I am a 32-year-old civil servant from the eastern part of Nigeria. I was sexually harassed at the early age of 6 right up till age 12. It kept happening and telling my mum about it didn’t help much as she didn’t believe me. Anyway, that led me to know a lot about sexual acts very early and I also grew to despise guys. I made up my mind to stay away from boys or having any relationship until I was done with my education. Also, thanks to my mother who kept telling me that if I allowed any boy touch me I would get pregnant and stop school, I stuck to my pledge.
I graduated from university and decided it was time for me to get into the dating scene. The first guy I dated was a guy who had been asking me out all through my university years. He graduated before me and by the time I was done he was working. I gave a positive response to his proposal; we had just dated for three months when I discovered he was seeing someone else although he kept claiming it was me he wanted. Six months into our relationship, he had his introduction with this lady and I had to step back. I was more disappointed in him than being hurt.
Youth service took me to Abuja where I met another young man. It was wonderful as he took really great care of me and respected me. Soon, I discovered he had started making me do away with my friends and was trying to control my decisions. Whenever I refused anything he asked me to do, he got upset. He was also about 10years my senior. I was feeling so caged that I had to walk out of that relationship. He also had a lot of female friends who he claimed were just friends but I was not allowed to as much as communicating with mine.
A few months later I got my job in the civil service and kept very busy. Approximately 5 months after I broke up with him I met another guy and wow the chemistry was everything! I never knew I was capable of falling in love because I was always guiding my heart not wanting to fall too fast. This man swept me off my feet and it was wonderful for about 8months then suddenly just like that, he stopped calling and refused to pick my calls. I went to his house and was denied access and just like that he was gone.
Oh, the hurt I went through; it was as if my heart was in pieces and I cried for months. I started to wonder what love had against me if the first guy I genuinely fell in love with could treat me that way. I decided to leave Abuja for Lagos to have a fresh start.
For the two years I have been in Lagos, I have refused to date anyone because every guy I have met after speaking with them wants to end up either in my house or I in theirs, and I see that to mean they just want to have sex yet I want something more meaningful. It has gotten to a point where sometimes I sit and wonder if I am being too harsh and judging them wrong but I just believe all they want is to have sex and go.
Please, I need your help as this is getting me so worried as I would like to settle down soon with a good man but I don’t seem to trust any man right now.
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Effects of childhood Sexual molestation: 1. Destruction of trust
As we earlier pointed out ninety (90%) of all childhood sexual molestation is carried out by someone acquainted with the child and in a position of trust; in Ijeoma’s case here, Uncle Chidi. The predator takes advantage of the child’s trust in them to prey on the child.
Even more difficult is that the predator is usually someone whom people think incapable of taking advantage of the child. For him or her to have access to the child means that the child’s parents have vetted them and for that period, has made them guardians of the child.
When that trust is betrayed, the child finds it difficult to trust anyone anymore. Everyone subsequently becomes a suspect. The child grows into adulthood a broken adult with trust issues. Every motive is checked and double checked.
If you remember that child molestation starts with enticement- a sweet, a seemingly innocent request etc, you would understand why the adult has issues believing that people are real and that they are whom they say they are.
Now we must remember that this trust runs several parallels. There is first a distrust element emanating from the predator’s actions. There is also the distrust element emanating from the parent’s inaction. The child looks to the parent for protection and when an incident like this happens, there is a sense that the parents failed in their job as protectors.
As such one sign prevalent among child abuse survivors is a deep distrust of authority and issues with authority figures. Child abuse survivors usually become iconoclastic and authority rebels. Remember that parents represent the first authority figures in the life of a child and when that trust is broken, it is representative of the failure of authority. “Authority” wasn’t there to protect, so why should it demand?
Trust takes deeper meanings for a molested child. Each time that trust is betrayed even by seemingly small events, the broken trust is reinforced more like a scar that has been reopened.
Survivors run from forming deep relationships with anyone and develop strange relationships with the members of the abusers’ sex. Survivors of sexual molestation are more vulnerable than others to repeated abuse and exploitation, even in adulthood. Whilst some grow to hate men and avoid relationships, some find themselves drawn to men who abuse them.
Effects of childhood Sexual molestation: 2. Self Guilt
Several times, when the child reports or tries to report these molestations, they are not believed. The status of the predator is so high and the act seems so bizarre that the parents/guardians shrug it off as a case of tattling. The child is left sometimes thinking that they must have influenced the attacks somehow.
Predators also reinforce those thoughts by making the child think the same. The child has issues reconciling these reactions to what they perceive as reality. Survivors usually withdraw into themselves after molestation. The difficulties of reconciliation lead to self-doubt and deeper and more intense self-questioning than with other kids.
Survivors of childhood sexual molestation usually grow up second-guessing themselves. There is a sense of loss of something precious, of having something taken away from them and of not being good enough. These survivors usually describe themselves as being broken and suffer from a deep lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem.
Awkwardness, deep uncommon shyness, self-deprecation are usual hallmarks of these survivors at adulthood. They sometimes develop coping mechanisms that leave them seeming cold, unemotional, snobbish and difficult to deal with.
Effects of childhood Sexual molestation: 3. The victim mentality
In all cases, the survivor is never a willing participant in the molestation. These cases happen against their will. At the point of the rape, the survivors usually have a sense of helplessness. In spite of their protestations, the predator has their way. Unlike adult rape in which the predator rarely repeats his attack, the child molester hangs around his victim.
The survivor gets to see the molester in everyday settings where he is held in some form of regard. The molester continually taunts the victim from close quarters and has his way at his choosing.
Survivors of child sexual molestation find it difficult to shake off the victim mentality. It is always as of the rest of the world has ganged up against them. In their mind, it is always a case of “them against me”. There is a sense of being misunderstood. I mean this guy attacks me night after night. Everyone thinks he is okay. Am I the only one that sees he is an animal, a beast?
As such, the individual is always fighting imaginary gang ups. “People at the office are ganging up against me”. “My Bf/Husband even children are ganging up against me” The triggers of those days of helplessness exist. The individual isn’t aware of it and might not understand it but innocent issues act as triggers and transport the individual back to that time when she was helplessly pinned against the predator.
Survivors find it difficult to explain the deep anger they perpetually feel.
Effects of childhood Sexual molestation: 4. Unexplainable Fear
Fear is a recurring theme with victims. Having lived in terror during the period of the attack, victims rarely feel safe. Several have sleep disorders, panic attacks and an unexplainable fear. I have counselled survivors who have felt like just running out of their own house after feeling a presence they can’t explain.
You must remember that this child went from relative safety into where what was assumedly safety was instrumental to fear. That deep-seated fear is difficult to shake off. During the period of molestation, nowhere was safe and even though that element has been removed, it still lingers in the mind. You must realise that the mind is a massive instrument. It can be both your freedom and your prison. So even though they can’t see the attacker physically, he still remains in the mind.
These survivors have a higher than usual unexplainable fear of dark places, cramped spaces, claustrophobia, the unexpected.
Well, this is the end of part two. Understanding the above opens the doorway to healing. It helps you understand yourself if you have been a victim and helps you understand a loved one if she has been a victim.
In this case with Ijeoma, I am dealing with female attacks. Subsequent ones will deal with male victims and also scenarios where a close family member is the perpetrator of the attack.
In Part three, I will deal with overcoming these effects. How can you free yourself and live life to your full potential.