Unfortunately, shame and sexual abuse go together. Shame goes to the core and can result in feelings of being broken or less than. I rarely see a client who has been sexually abused or raped who doesn’t feel some sense of personal shame for what happened. Whether they believe they could have prevented the sexual abuse or rape or not, there is still a deep sense that they are not as good as “everyone else“ that is, …those who have not experienced sexual abuse or rape. I think shame from sexual abuse or rape is reinforced by a number of factors.
First, our culture’s discomfort with talking about sex reinforces sexual abuse and rape victims’ keeping their assault a secret. In the US, media capitalizes on sex yet so much of our culture views it as a taboo that should not be talked about as adults, let alone with children. This makes sex and sexuality incredibly confusing for people, especially sexual victims. Not processing or talking about things makes them more mysterious and confusing. With sexual abuse or rape, keeping the abuse or rape a secret ultimately makes the victim feel smaller and disempowered and makes the crime and victimization seem bigger and scarier. Resulting in them feeling less likely to move past it. Talking about thoughts and feelings associated with sexual victimization and understanding that the thoughts and feelings are typical or normal are keys to moving past the shame of sexual abuse and rape.
The second factor that I think often reinforces shame associated with sexual abuse or rape, and is likely perpetuated by our secretive approach to the topic of sex, is the plethora of misinformation people have about sex, sexual abuse, and sexual satisfaction. False beliefs about what it means to be a victim/survivor of sexual abuse reinforces victims’ thoughts or feelings that they brought it on themselves or that there is something innately wrong with themselves that resulted in the abuse, attack, rape.
The other main factor that I think often reinforces shame associated with sexual abuse is the false belief that victims of child sexual abuse are likely to become abusers themselves. This is incorrect information that is likely created by the very perpetrators of sexual abuse and rape who are looking for sympathy and more lenient jail sentences. Statistically speaking this theory is what is shameful. Sure it is correct that some perpetrators were victims themselves. However, the mass majority of abusers are men and the mass majority of victims are women. You do the math. If you or someone you know is struggling with their shame of being sexually abused or raped, I encourage you to find a safe way to start processing it or encourage them to find a safe way to start processing it. Here are two books I recommend my clients read when we are working through shame and towards having healthy intimate sexual relationships:
Now go have sex.