The Effects of Childhood Sex Abuse
A look at the enduring and lifelong suffering
By: Richard Windmann, Ph.D.
We have come to understand that a victim of childhood sex abuse finds coercion, deception, excuses, double or floating or moving standards, mystification, low self-esteem and self-medicating to be natural aspects of their world. Without these dysfunctional features in their life, they would not have been able to survive for as long as they have. It affects their quality of life and relationships. Victims and Survivors are left to live a life of perpetual fear that their constructed world view can be torn down at any moment, and thus they must forever be on guard against any who attempt to encourage them to question the fallacies of their childhood. Trust and truth for them is and always will remain a convoluted concept that must never allow for the facts and reality or reason to exist. We need to get to victims earlier in their lives, so they don't live a life of pure hell.
The popular belief that victims of childhood abuse can simply put a Band-Aid on the rear ends and get on with life is a myth that has permeated society until recent times. The moment a child is sexually abused starts a long and painful existence for the rest of the person’s life if not treated.
As psychiatric and psychological sciences advance in modern times, so does our understanding of the profile of child sex abuse victims. Today, we have a much clearer understanding of the tragedy that befalls these souls that last a lifetime. There is no cure, the only thing they can do is try to successfully manage it, or as we’ve seen en masse is to end their suffering by means of suicide.
It is the hope of this short article to help general society to understand the mental, physical, and physiological profile, and to have a better understanding of the lifetime trauma that they endure. And not only does childhood sex abuse affect the victims, but it also destroys families:
“As a result of our Son being MURDERED by father Charles J. Newman and brother Regis Howitz, both franciscan friars OFM/BVM, I have been plunged into a dark hole from where I cannot escape!” - A.J. Baselice, survivor of victim suicide.
So what do we know about the pedophile perpetrators?
There are different classifications of perpetrators; “hebephiles,” “pederasts,” and “pedophiles,” etc. according to the perpetrator’s preferred age group for their victims, For the purposes of this article, I will refer to all categories as “pedophiles.” Pedophiles can be male or female, married or single, heterosexual or homosexual, young or old. There are several types of pedophiles in terms of their victim methodology. There are family members, “snatch-and-grabbers,” and “groomers.” Children can also be offenders. In the case of family members, grooming is not necessary, as the bond of trust with the victim is already established. And they encompass all family members; the parents, grandparents, siblings and even the “drunk Uncle." Family members, friends neighbors, someone you already know, are demographically the most pervasive in our society.
A bit about my story... at the age of 9, I was sexually abused by a older neighbor boy and it went on for 4-5 years. I finally got old enough to realize that what was going on was wrong and started distancing myself from him. I never told anyone about it. - Jake Tuckey, child sex abuse survivor
The “snatch-and-grabbers” are just as you imagine. They are the ones who stereotypically hang out at places where children congregate - playgrounds, school yards, etc. They trick children into getting into their vehicles, or will abduct a child if they are reluctant. Tragically, this is the most dangerous type of pedophile, as they are hard to predict, track, and their crimes often lead to the murders of their victims.
Groomers are the most notorious, calculated, sinister pedophiles of all. They are the ones we know the most about. They use psychological techniques to break down a child, build trust, and form conspiratorial bonds with their child victims. They gravitate to activities and/or professions that give them access to children and positions of authority. They choose occupations such as teachers, priests, coaches, scoutmasters, even the creepy guy at the fun arcade that gives out change.
What all pedophiles have in common is that they never have just one victim. The estimates range, but the average is thirty victims over their entire career. Also, the rate of recidivism is higher than any other category of crime - they will reoffend unless they are caught and taken out of society. One notorious pedophile, Stanley Burkhardt from New Orleans, who abused this author, was convicted and incarcerated no less than four times. He was the commander of the New Orleans’ Police Department pedophile unit, an authority figure who had access to children. But there are things we don’t know, such as what makes them tick, or whether they are born or made. Unfortunately, there is no cure for a pedophile.
Lifetime journey of a victim
Now that we have a basic understanding of what and who a pedophile is, let's talk about the victims of these monsters. Like pedophiles, victims come from all walks of life, but the most vulnerable group is the children of broken family homes or single parent homes. They can have two types of memories, repressed or recessed. Statistically, the memories came back to them in the late forties and early fifties. Some outliers have their memories come back earlier in life, a trend we are starting to see as awareness initiatives continue to increase.
Repressed memories are “forgotten” as a result of their trauma. As an adult, they have no recollection of their abuse until it surfaces later in life. Recessed memories are never forgotten, but “filed away” or put on the “back burner” for a later time. Victims of recessed memories get busy doing things, and by outward appearances are very successful in life. I was one of these “filers.” I took my academic studies very seriously, embarked on the self-study of multiple unrelated disciplines, subsequently had a brilliant career and focused on my family. Victims of repressed memories tend to have troubled lives that continue into adulthood, for which no one can explain. The earlier in age the abuse happens, the more memories tend to be repressed.
Regardless of the type of memories, all victims suffer from general anxiety, depression, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), sometimes CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and sometimes dissociative disorder. Trust is also broken down, sometimes for a lifetime. Trust in the victim and survivor community is a rare commodity, and causes a myriad of issues with every type of relationship they find themselves in. Regardless of the conditions and symptoms, there is currently no cure for the trauma resulting in childhood sex abuse, it can only be managed by psychiatric medication, psychological therapy, and other therapeutic activities, such as peer-led support groups.
And there are physical effects as well. The amygdala is a small, almond-sized part of the brain. It resides in the midbrain, the oldest, most primitive part of our brains. It is responsible for our fight, flight, freeze and fawn responses. Victims constantly live in their amygdala. When we are in our amygdala, our bodies release a chemical called cortisol. Cortisol raises our awareness, anxiety, makes our muscles rigid, and increases our heart rate. It is how we survive. The problem with cortisol is that it is supposed to be in our body when danger is present, and out of your body when the danger passes. Your hair and nails stop growing, we don’t need that when we are trying to survive. Usually our frontal cortices (logic and reason) regulate this, but in victims of childhood sex abuse, their neural pathways that were supposed to be developed in early childhood have not formed, or stunted, or are defective because of our abuse, and the amygdala wins every time.
Shortly after summer school started, he found ways to reach his hand into my pants, fondling my genitals and penis. Terrified, I froze, not knowing what to do, as my classmates looked on. - Steve McEvoy, child sex abuse survivor
When you constantly have cortisol dripping in your system, it compromises your immune system, and is the reason why victims have a higher rate of physical maladies, and have them earlier in life, and is why medicine and therapy are so important. It also explains why some victims tend to have substance abuse and behavioral issues, and participate in risky behaviors such as promiscuity, crime, etc. Dealing with this trauma can be dangerous as well. Most victims become survivors by dealing with their abuse by telling someone or going to therapy. During this time, they go through a phase of anger, and these conditions and symptoms can be amplified.
Substance Abuse and Suicide
The majority of victims have or have had substance abuse issues. Because they live a life of misplaced shame and guilt, and because it is a secret and cannot tell anyone, they self-medicate the pain with mind altering substances. Alcohol abuse is prevalent, and can also include opiates (narcotic pain medicine, heroin, fentanyl, etc.), and benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium. Coming off, or “detoxing” from alcohol and benzodiazepines can be extremely dangerous, and can cause seizures and heart attacks. Detoxing from these drugs should always be medically supervised. Taking drugs works for a while, but when it stop working, and it will stop working, suicide.
As a result of the abuse I suffered from, I had long-term psychological problems and delved deep into substance abuse for 15 years, from which It felt like there was no escape but suicide. I've attempted suicide 4 times since I was abused at age 16. - Luke Wiersma, child sex abuse survivor
Suicide is prevalent in both the victim and survivor community. I myself attempted suicide at the age of nineteen, which resulted in a coma for five days. When I went public with my story, a childhood friend was successful in committing suicide. And it’s not just victims. Prominent survivor and advocate/activist Nate Lindstrom also succumbed to his condition. Just last year, we lost a young lady in her twenties. Even to this day I sometimes have ideations. It comes with the territory in sexual abuse victims and survivors. It’s something that we must always guard against, and why support is so very vital to our existence.
It is a tragic moment when we get to the end of our rope because of our abuse, and there seems to be no way out. In our world, fellowship is very important. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they know that if you don’t master the 12th step, you will drink again. And what is the twelfth step? Service to another. One alcoholic helping another. That is the secret sauce, why peer-led support groups are both effective and essential. My wife, as much as I love her, does not understand some things about me. However, I can sit in a peer-led support meeting, and without saying a word, I truly know what the person sitting across from me has been through. It would be akin to telling a Vietnam Veteran that you know what they’ve been through. When a victim or survivor trusts you enough to share their story with you, the best response is that “I am so sorry that happened to you, and I believe you.
Childhood sex abuse is one of the most heinous, devastating crimes in the world. The human suffering is unspeakable, and oftentimes very hard to describe completely. Up until recent times, it has been the survivors that have done the heavy lifting. We are now (2022) in a reality where our movement has gained traction and have stayed relevant through our awareness initiatives. Since about 2017, we have gained a momentum that seems to be enduring. This is the day of reckoning, the day we say no more. This is the age of vastly reducing the amount of children who are abused. There will always be pedophiles, but it is incumbent upon us to protect our children. Again, this is the day we say “no more.”
Some credentialed experts might disagree with this article and call it “anecdotal” or unscientific, but we are not doing a study, we are living the study.
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