Thank you so much for trusting us with this question.
To start, you are not alone. It is quite common for individuals who are processing childhood trauma to feel guilt, shame, and confusion. It is also common for survivors to not want to believe what happened to them was real, or for them to have memory gaps surrounding certain details of these events. Only you know what you have experienced, but here are some of our thoughts below.
If you think you experienced sexual abuse as a child, remember in its simplest form, child sexual abuse is any sexual encounter that occurs between a child and an older person (as children cannot legally consent to sexual acts). This abuse may involve contact, like touching or penetration. It also includes non-contact cases, like "flashing" or child pornography. The age under which one is considered a child varies by state and sometimes an age differential between the perpetrator and the victim is required.
Labeling your experience is up to you, but for many, putting a name to it allows them to more effectively deal with the feelings they are experiencing in the aftermath. Others would rather not label their experiences and prefer to spend their time looking forward. This is also a strategy you may consider, as long as you feel safe now and the memories you are having are not causing you any distress. Be sure you are not suffering in silence. There are people out there who can support you.
Grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust, or emotional connection with a young person or their family so that they can manipulate, exploit, and abuse them. Signs of grooming often include:
1. Targeting the young person
2. Building trust with the young person and their family
3. Isolating the young person
4. Initiating sexual abuse and securing secrecy
If this sounds like what you experienced, then it would make sense why you feel so confused. Remember no matter what happened, it is never your fault. Honor the feelings you are having.
It is also not uncommon for memories of childhood trauma to emerge in adulthood and for you to want to seek help for this experience now. In fact, around 70% of child sexual abuse cases are thought to be disclosed during adulthood. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse often have difficulties speaking up about their experience and remembering exact details. Sometimes ‘forgetting’ becomes your brain’s way of surviving and coping.
If you are now remembering scattered details or having vivid memories, it might make sense to try to work through those with a trained mental health professional. If you are unable to make sense of the memories you have, or have blocks of time where you have no memory at all, you may also want to work with a mental health professional to try to retrieve those memories when you are ready. You will want to find a therapist who specifically specializes in trauma or posttraumatic stress disorder. You could also reach out to your local rape crisis center. These centers are typically free of charge and can direct you to resources to support you. Once you have some more answers, you can then decide what you would like to do next.
If you have additional questions or want to begin talking through your experience now, you can reach out to the National Sexual Assault Hotline which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: Terms of Service - Online Hotline (rainn.org) . They will listen to what you have to say and will direct you to resources in your local area.
It can be very disorienting to process a traumatic experience that happened when you were a child. While the feelings that you are having are not uncommon, it does not make them any less painful. Resist the guilt you may be feeling. You deserve to feel safe and to be supported in your healing journey. Trust your gut and honor all the emotions that come along the way. Recognize you have a community of survivors behind you. You are not alone.