Sexual Assault, Shame, and Attachment Disorders in Girls

Sexual Assault, Shame, and Attachment Disorders in Girls

Teenage girls have the highest risk of sexual abuse and assault of any population group. Unfortunately, in most cases, the crimes against them go unreported. Girls with untreated sexual trauma have a higher risk of developing substance use disorder (SUD) or mental health issues. Some girls never get treatment because they do not report the abuse due to guilt or shame.

As a parent, you can show your child that their experiences do not define them and that they deserve to heal. The treatment programs offered at Havenwood Academy help teen girls heal from sexual trauma.

Why Teenage Girls Rarely Report Sexual Abuse or Assault

According to the International Journal of Women’s Health, “The World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that for almost one-third of adolescent girls, the first sexual experience is reported as being forced.” Most of these incidents are unreported primarily because the victim feels embarrassment, shame, or fear. Adopted girls might be afraid of social stigmas surrounding sexual violence or the possible reactions of their adoptive family. Early childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can contribute to internalizing stigmas. 

Social Stigmas 

Unfortunately, society often blames the young woman for inviting sexual violence instead of the offender for initiating it. Widely-held beliefs like these can stop some girls from seeking help when they experience sexual trauma. You can combat this stigma by educating your child about common stereotypes and misconceptions like: 

  • “Only certain types of people experience sexual violence.”
  • “If the girl doesn’t tell the other person to stop, it is not sexual violence.”
  • “Rape is the only sexual violence that can cause trauma.” 
  • “Women cannot sexually abuse or assault girls.”
  • “Many girls lie about being sexually abused or assaulted.” 
  • “Anyone who reports sexual violence only wants attention.” 

All of these beliefs are false. You can talk with your child to see if they have similar ideas and then work with them to replace those thoughts with self-affirming ones.

Fear of Punishment 

Sexual violence often involves a power imbalance. The offender has control of the situation and may explicitly state threats against the girl if she tells anyone what happened. Your child may fear for their safety and avoid talking about the sexual assault because they think they are protecting themselves. If you notice your child behaving strangely, especially around a particular person or kind of person, talk to them about why with compassion and understanding. Whatever they reveal to you, create a plan of action to deal with the threat and avail them of resources to help them heal. 

Confusion About What Happened 

Young girls often fall victim to people they trust. Further, foster and adopted children may not have had any form of sexual education. The lack of knowledge combined with a power imbalance can cause confusion about what happened. It can also leave them uncertain about whether they should tell someone. Additionally, children with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) may have difficulty understanding healthy boundaries with adults which can result in them being taken advantage of. 

Dangers of Internalized Stigmas 

Internalized stigmas can leave girls feeling ashamed, guilty, or embarrassed about the sexual violence they experienced. This can leave them feeling isolated and cause maladaptive behaviors. According to Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, “Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a recognized risk factor for myriad negative outcomes in survivors,” including: 

  • Developmental problems 
  • Issues related to sexuality 
  • Mood disorders and other mental health problems
  • Higher instances of SUD
  • Increased risk of attachment disorders 
  • Behavioral issues 
  • Being socially withdrawn and not trusting others 

You can help your daughter process and move past what happened by providing her with unconditional love and support. Ensuring she has access to therapy and mental health treatment can provide significant emotional relief. Facilities like Havenwood Academy provide excellent resources and mental health treatment for teen survivors of sexual violence. 

Talking to Your Daughter About Sexual Assault 

It is essential to let your daughter know you believe her and do not blame her for what the offender did. Encouragement and acceptance can help repair damage to your daughter’s self-esteem and self-worth. Be patient, compassionate, and a good listener

Avoid the following things when talking to your daughter about sexual assault: 

  • Demanding details of the assault
  • Blaming her choices about when and where she disclosed the assault
  • Implying she could have avoided the assault by doing something differently

Every girl responds to trauma differently, and they may have difficulty discussing the details of what happened. Do not pressure her even if the sexual assault was unreported. Some girls need time to feel comfortable with the idea of reporting the offender.

How to Make Your Home a Safe Space

Sexual assault and other traumas can impact your child’s ability to feel safe at home. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lists the following as ways you can make your home a safe space

  • Respect your daughter’s “comfort level with touching, hugging, and kissing”
  • Encourage children and adults to respect the comfort and privacy of others
  • Be cautious about play fighting and tickling
  • Teach the entire family about healthy, age-appropriate boundaries
  • Inform children and young adults about privacy
  • Keep adult sexual activity and talk private

Adolescent and teenage girls are at higher risk of developing self-esteem and behavioral issues related to sexual trauma. You can protect your daughter by modeling healthy social boundaries and ensuring she receives treatment for any sexual violence and related mental health disorders she may experience. Adopted teenagers may have a history of childhood trauma that makes them feel uncertain about speaking with adults about private matters like sexual assault. You can encourage your child to talk about their trauma by providing a warm and nurturing environment and communicating honestly with them about your concerns. To learn more about how you can help your daughter heal from sexual trauma, call Havenwood Academy today at (435) 586-2500.

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