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PTSD Resources for Abuse Survivors

Nov 23, 2022
Last updated Apr 22, 2024
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Sexual abuse survivors often have a long and difficult road to recovery. Due to the nature of this despicable crime, survivors may feel a complex set of emotions ranging from confusion, guilt, disgust, anger, embarrassment, and grief that may take months or even years to understand and manage. For many survivors, the trauma causes long-term post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

If you or a loved one is a survivor of sexual abuse, remember that you are not alone. If you suspect you are experiencing PTSD in the aftermath of sexual abuse, you can get help. At Edwards Henderson, our team of sexual abuse attorneys is here to offer legal counsel and help you seek justice and compensation for the crimes committed against you.

Key Takeaways

  • Sexual abuse survivors may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the abuse.
  • If you suspect you have PTSD, you should immediately seek medical attention for diagnosis and treatment.
  • While there is no exact cure for PTSD, a mental healthcare expert can help you recover from trauma through therapy and/or medication.
  • Sexual abuse PTSD survivors may file a civil lawsuit against their abuser and/or third-party facilitator for seeking justice and compensation.

Correlation between Sexual Abuse and PTSD

Sexual abuse relates to nonconsensual sexual activity. Sexual abuse may occur at homes, schools, religious institutions, hospitals, recreational facilities, rehabs, therapeutic teen boarding schools, or anywhere with access to individuals who find themselves in a vulnerable situation. Sexual activities like rape or attempted rape, sexual assault, child molestation, and generally, all forms of sexual behaviors in which at least one of the persons involved is incapable of giving consent or has not given consent, can leave survivors with PTSD.

According to the American Psychiatry Association, PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in survivors who have witnessed or experienced traumatic events. A person who is a survivor of a violent crime like rape as a result of a hate crime may also develop PTSD symptoms, especially if they were seriously injured or felt their life was in danger.

While a majority of sexual abuse survivors develop symptoms of PTSD within a month of abuse, child sexual abuse survivors may take years to comprehend their past trauma. A number of factors may increase the intensity of PTSD symptoms, including family or personal history of mental health conditions.

If you believe you are experiencing PTSD after being sexually abused, whether immediately or even years later, you should seek medical attention and/or mental health assistance as soon as you can.

What Are the Different Kinds of PTSD?

Sexual abuse survivors may experience different kinds of PTSD. These may include one or more of the following:

  • Normal stress response: A normal stress response is a precursor to PTSD. It is the body’s way of dealing with unusually high levels of stress after a traumatic event. However, a normal stress response does not always lead to a case of PTSD and thus, the symptoms may subside within a few weeks, usually with the help of supportive family, peers and friends, as well as individual or group therapy sessions.
  • Acute stress disorder: This type of stress response occurs due to exposure to life-threatening events, and may develop into PTSD if left untreated. Acute stress disorder may be managed with effective treatment such as therapy and/or medication.
  • Uncomplicated PTSD: This kind of PTSD is the likely result of a single traumatic event. While the symptoms can be as debilitating as other categories of PTSD, they may be effectively treated with therapy and/or medication as well.
  • Comorbid PTSD: Comorbid PTSD occurs when a person has other mental health conditions or substance abuse issues at the same time as sexual abuse PTSD. This is unfortunately very common and is best treated with the help of mental health professionals.
  • Complex PTSD: Complex PTSD or C-PTSD develops when a person has been subjected to repeated traumatic events. This may be prevalent in sexual abuse cases where the survivor has been abused multiple times or has undergone a series of sexual abuse combined with other traumatic experiences, like multiple instances of child sex abuse along with parental neglect. It is also common in domestic violence and sex trafficking cases. Treatment for C-PTSD may include trauma-focused therapy and medication.

What are the Common Symptoms of Sexual Abuse PTSD?

Survivors of sexual abuse may experience immediate, severe, and/or chronic symptoms of PTSD. Identifying your symptoms may help you recognize when it is time to ask for help. These symptoms may include:

  • Memory loss: Memory loss may be the result of enduring a traumatic experience. When associated with PTSD, it could take the form of forgetting a particular part of an event or losing the memory of a whole period of time as a coping mechanism for trauma.
  • Nightmares: A survivor may have recurring nightmares in which they have flashbacks of trauma or other unrelated but terrible nightmares. This may be one of the most difficult symptoms to manage as it can feel like reliving the trauma over and over again.
  • Intrusive thoughts: Thoughts or memories of the traumatic event can invade your mind and remind you of the event. Intrusive thoughts can make it difficult to focus and concentrate on the present moment. Survivors may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms to block such intrusive thoughts, such as frequent hand-washing.
  • Hyper-vigilance: This symptom can make you feel like you are always on the lookout for danger. A seemingly constant heightened awareness can take a significant toll mentally, emotionally, and physically.
  • Anger and irritability: Unexpected, quick outbursts of anger, often directed at others, can make relationships difficult to manage for both the survivor and the people they interact with.
  • Trouble concentrating: Those with PTSD often report having a hard time concentrating on the task at hand, which can make it difficult to function or work while the underlying issue is unaddressed.
  • Self-Isolation: After a traumatic event, people suffering from PTSD might wish to withdraw and self-isolate. This may be due to a desire to avoid anything that reminds them of the event or because they feel interaction with others emotionally taxing.
  • Avoiding reminders of the event: Survivors of sexual abuse who are dealing with PTSD may naturally want to avoid the person who abused them, as well as the friends and family of their sex abuser, or the place where the abuse occurred. It may become harder for the survivor to deal with if they are they are unable to avoid the abuser, for example, when the perpetrator is a family member.
  • Risk-taking: Destructive and risky behaviors are common signs of PTSD, where the survivor may engage in self-destructive behavior such as reckless driving.
  • Difficulty experiencing positive feelings: Individuals dealing with PTSD may experience depression and generally have difficulty maintaining positive emotions for long periods of time.
  • Always feeling on guard: Survivors may feel as if they are always on the lookout for something bad to happen. Depending on the trauma suffered, this feeling of being constantly on guard can manifest itself in a variety of ways, such as anxiety or elevated blood pressure.
  • Blaming: This symptom can take the form of self-blame or blaming others for the sexual trauma experienced. When the blame is aimed at others who are not responsible for the abuse, it can take a significant toll on relationships, causing resentment, anger, or detachment.
  • Vivid flashbacks: Flashbacks of the trauma can cause a person to relive the experience over and over again. These flashbacks can make it harder to move on as they act like a constant reminder of the trauma, making the survivor feel helpless for being unable to stop these flashbacks.
  • Insomnia: Individuals who have PTSD might have a difficult time sleeping or falling back asleep if they wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Feelings of hopelessness and low self-esteem: PTSD symptoms of hopelessness and low self-esteem are common and can even go so far as to make a person feel depressed. In some cases, individuals may even start to form suicidal thoughts as a way out of their trauma-filled existence.
  • Dwindling interest in favorite pastimes: When a person is suffering from PTSD, they may lose interest in some of their favorite pastimes and activities. It may be a warning sign when such loss of interest continues for too long.
  • Avoiding people, places, and things related to the event: When someone dealing with PTSD is reminded of the trauma in any way, it may trigger a negative reaction. To avoid this, survivors may avoid people, places, and things that remind them of the incident.

Needless to say, PTSD can take several forms and show up in many different ways for different individuals who have undergone any form of sexual abuse at any stage of their lives. It is important to identify all relevant symptoms and seek help so you can manage your symptoms and live a healthy life.

Do I Have PTSD?

If you are a survivor of a traumatic event like sexual abuse and have been experiencing certain symptoms, behavioral changes, or shifts in your mood regularly for a significant period of time, you might be suffering from PTSD. However, it is best to not rely on yourself for a diagnosis.

It may be tempting to watch videos and read articles about PTSD and how to overcome it, but only a healthcare professional can diagnose and treat you effectively and safely so you are able to manage your condition in the long run.

PTSD and Sexual Abuse: FAQs

PTSD can be difficult to fully understand even when there is so much information on the internet about it. The following FAQs can help answer some common questions:

1. Can PTSD be cured?

Like with many mental health conditions, there is no known cure for PTSD. However, there are treatments that can help alleviate or manage your symptoms. For example, many PTSD survivors may benefit from individual or group therapy that includes techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and education on healthier coping mechanisms to manage triggers. In more severe cases, a psychiatrist may prescribe medication to help manage symptoms.

At the same time, there may be things that can trigger or make symptoms worse for those suffering from PTSD. To come up with a structured plan to help manage your PTSD, you should talk to a mental health professional as soon as you can.

2. Is PTSD a mental illness?

PTSD is a mental health issue and one that affects millions of people each year. Unlike some mental health disorders or illnesses that may be inherited, like bipolar disorder, PTSD is the result of a traumatic event. This means while certain inherited mental health disorders may predispose a person to PTSD at the occurrence of a traumatic event, it does require some kind of trauma to trigger PTSD symptoms.

3. How is PTSD treated?

PTSD treatment for sex abuse survivors may take the form of individual or group therapy, along with medications to manage some of the more complex symptoms, like clinical depression.

Since PTSD may manifest differently in different individuals, you should talk to your therapist who can come up with a treatment plan that is right for you.

4. How long does PTSD last?

There is no set amount of time for PTSD symptoms to last. Because there is no exact cure for PTSD, it is likely that the symptoms will ebb and flow over time, depending on the treatment and other factors. However, with professional help, individuals can expect to see some results in the way they feel and how they function.

5. How do I know if I have PTSD?

There is only one way to know for sure if you have PTSD: getting diagnosed by a qualified mental health care professional. You should never self-medicate. A doctor will know what to look for and what treatment plan might work best for you. If you are uncertain about a medical opinion, do not hesitate to seek a second opinion to confirm your diagnosis.

How Can PTSD Survivors Fight Back?

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse and are experiencing sexual abuse-related PTSD, remember that you have options ahead of you. In addition to seeking the appropriate medical help, you may also want to consider taking legal action in the form of a civil sex abuse lawsuit to hold your sexual abuser liable. You can pursue legal action against both the perpetrators of the crime and any related third-party organization such as a school, hospital, or workplace that may have failed to take measures to protect you.

A civil lawsuit functions independently of a criminal action against a sexual abuser and/or a third-party facilitator. It allows a survivor to seek damages to cover non-economic damages such as compensation for pain and trauma, and the loss of enjoyment of life, as well as financial losses, including relevant lost wages, medical bills, and therapy costs.

Contact Our Sexual Abuse Attorneys for Help

If you wish to seek legal recourse, you may want to consult an attorney who is specialized in the field and has a high success rate in sex abuse cases. An experienced attorney would be able to help you seek the maximum compensation possible in your case for sexual abuse and the consequent PTSD that followed.

At Edwards Henderson, we have handled numerous sexual abuse cases that resulted in verdicts that have reached into millions of dollars. You can reach out to us for an initial free and confidential case evaluation as a great way to get started on understanding your legal rights. Contact us today.

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Article Sources

  1. The Breaking Code Silence Movement
  2. What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
  3. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

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