In this article, we will highlight the taboos surrounding sexuality. Sexuality has many definitions. In the human being, it is the whole of the tendencies and activities which seek the carnal pleasure. This pleasure is found in caresses, kisses, the act itself etc… We can have it alone or with another person. But, at what point can we talk about sexual abuse?

What are we talking about?

Sexual abuse is defined as any sexual act or attempt using coercion, with or without physical, moral or psychological violence (WHO, 2002).

So this can include:

If you are touched in a place you do not want to be touched,
If you are forced to watch or take part in a sexual act,
If someone (teacher, family member, friend, neighbor…) with influence over you manipulates/persuades/forces you to perform a sexual act (sending pornographic videos or photos, touching you or him…),

There are a lot of situations that can correspond to sexual abuse. It is important to remember that your consent, your feeling of the situation (before, during or after) and the situation itself is what characterizes sexual abuse.

According to a 2015 survey by the Traumatic Memory and Victimology Association (IVSEA):

1 out of 5 women have suffered sexual violence as minors .

1 out of 14 men have suffered sexual violence as minors.

Post-traumatic stress?

In the case of sexual assault on minors, the risk of developing :

Chronic post-traumatic stress disorder – 80

This state occurs following one or more traumatic events. It is said to be chronic because it lasts over time.

The symptoms are :

  • Intrusion: memories or dreams in reference to the event, feeling and intense reaction when exposed to the event or what it represents again.
  • Persistent avoidance: of elements related to the event (person, place…).
    Altered mood and memory: inability to recall the event, negative beliefs and expectations about oneself, one’s future and the world, distorted ideas about the cause of the event, persistent negative emotional state, feelings of detachment, difficulty in feeling and understanding emotions.
  • Altered reactivity: irritability, angry outbursts, hypervigilance, concentration problems, sleep disorders…
  • Suffering: social, professional, academic…
  • Dissociative state – almost 100%.

Dissociative states are very present during sexual abuse of minors.

This can be expressed by a :

  • Depersonalization: persistent or recurring experience of feeling detached from yourself as if you were only observing your thoughts, your body from the outside (feeling of living in a dream, that your body is not real or that everything is happening in slow motion).
  • Derealization: persistent or recurrent feeling that the environment is not real.
    These mechanisms are called survival mechanisms, because they allow you to manage the dangerous situation, to protect yourself. They explain why:
  • Victims take years to talk. Loss of memory, dissociation and feelings of guilt make it difficult to complain, to dare to say what happened.
  • Some victims are not aware that they have been sexually abused. They forget or give another meaning to the event. This does not mean that they have given their consent and that their suffering should not be taken into consideration.
  • Some victims take several years to recover their memory of the events.

I am a victim of sexual assault, what to do ?

“83% of victims say they were not protected or recognized in their suffering.

You have the right to file a complaint.

You have the right to ask for help (psychological, legal).

You have the right to be angry at the aggressor, at the judicial system, etc.

What is important to remember is that sexual violence is currently little recognized in France. Less than 1.5% of aggressors are condemned, victims are often made to feel guilty by the people who are supposed to protect them.

To make one’s voice heard is not easy. However, it is important not to give up the courage to speak out and denounce.

  • Make an appointment with a psychologist: A psychologist represents a place of neutrality, of benevolence where your word counts and has value. The association Di Paradise offers a free psychological follow-up that can be done in person or remotely. You can decide to remain anonymous. The objective is to listen to you and help you express what you feel. Certain methods, such as hypnosis or EMDR, provided by psychologists can help you manage certain symptoms (sleep disorders, negative thoughts) and recover memories.
  • Joining a support group: There are many support groups for all ages. They are anonymous and allow people to speak out. Listening to people talk about what they have experienced can sometimes help you understand what you are experiencing and have experienced. The feelings expressed can echo your own and give you the opportunity to open up and understand yourself.

-> Stop violence against women: is a governmental site where you can find the necessary information according to your region: http://www.stop-violences-femmes.gouv.fr/

-> SOS inceste pour survivre: is an association that offers telephone hotlines and discussion groups depending on the region: http://www.sos-inceste-pour-revivre.org/

Call for legal advice: Several associations specialized in cases of sexual assault on minors offer help by phone.

-> L’Enfant Bleu : is an association offering an emergency number, legal advice by phone, therapeutic support, discussion groups… : https://enfantbleu.org/

I am a victim, but I am not

Just a victim,

Guilty,

A tease,

Weak,

A burden.

I exist and I have the right to have my story and my suffering heard.

I have the right to rebuild myself.

Emergency phone number: 119 or 01.56.56.62.62

Bibliography :

Lindberg, H. and Lois, J. (1985). Post-traumatic stress disorders in women who experienced childhood incest. Child abuse and neglect, 9(3), 329-334.
Mcfarlane, A. (2010). The long-term costs of traumatic stress: intertwined physical and psychological consequences. World Psychiatry, 9(1), p.3-10.
WHO. (2002). “Sexual violence. In: Krug, E., Dahlberg, L., Mercy, J., Zwi, A., Lazano-Ascencio, R. World report on violence and health. Geneva: WHO. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/en/chap6fr.pdf
Rodriguez, N. & Ryan, S. (1997). Posttraumatic stress disorder in adult female survivors of child sexual abuse: A comparison study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65(1), 53-59. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.65.1.53
Salmona, M. (2015). Violences sexuelles – Les 40 questions-réponses incontournables. Paris: Dunod.

Written by

Laure Raynal

Etudiante en 1ère année de master de psychologie à Paris VIII, je m'intéresse particulièrement aux problématiques centrées sur le stress et les psychotraumatismes. Pour moi, il est essentiel de croire en la capacité de chacun à s'épanouir.