Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse



Date of Publication
October, 2015

Over the last several years, sexual assault service providers in our state have been working to enhance their response and accessibility to minor survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA). Ideally, we want to create communities that offer safety for young survivors to disclose abuse and agencies that are prepared to provide early intervention services. However, we know that for many reasons, CSA survivors may not disclose their abuse for years. Thus, we want to also be ready to meet the unique needs of adult survivors who are still coping with the impacts of their experience but may not currently be in crisis.

The Resource Sharing Project authored a paper, Action, Engagement, Remembering: Services for Adult Survivors of CSA, that can help advocates and organizations think through considerations and advocacy approaches for this area of your work. Dr. Janine D’Anniballe has also been a leader in conversations about adult survivors of CSA. Below are a few summarized thoughts, questions, and prompts based on these resources from the field. Please use them, and the more thorough paper above, as a starting point to engage with your staff and colleagues and assess your agency’s current strengths and gaps.

When you think about your agency’s materials and messaging, do they signal to an adult survivor of CSA that your services are for them? On the flip side, if you are only seeing adult survivors of CSA, what message is your community getting about your agency’s services to children? What are the potential barriers to families and children accessing your services?
Adult survivors of CSA may be interacting with other service systems as a result of long-term impacts of abuse, rather than an immediate crisis need or current involvement with the criminal justice system. Do you have relationships with healthcare providers, substance abuse treatment professionals, or parenting and family support programs? Do these providers know about your agency and when a referral would be beneficial and appropriate? Likewise, do you have the information necessary to make informed referrals to community resources, such as holistic healing services, that may be more relevant to adult survivors of CSA?
Staff Capacity:
Crisis intervention looks much different than long-term advocacy. How do we need to shape our approaches to safety planning, medical advocacy, or coping skills development to be responsive to the unique needs of adult survivors who are seeking services for abuse that happened years ago rather than last week? For example, survivors who may see their childhood perpetrator at family functions or who do not feel comfortable or safe to access healthcare due to triggers? What does empowerment mean for someone at this point in their healing process?

Advocacy with adult survivors of CSA requires that we work with someone to address the reason(s) that they are seeking services now, while also being prepared to provide support and information about child sexual abuse and the varied dynamics, responses, and impacts—during and after the trauma. Do advocates at your agency have the knowledge necessary to normalize and educate on these topics? What skills do they need to better navigate these conversations and provide relevant services?

As you work through the considerations presented here, the following excerpt reminds us why it is so important that our agencies invest in developing our services to survivors, young and old, of child sexual abuse:

“When we see the high proportion of sexual violence committed against children, we understand that “if we don’t serve this population, we miss helping with at least 70% of sexual assault cases” (D’Anniballe, 2010). There is some evidence that childhood sexual violence increases the risk for adulthood sexual violence and domestic violence (for a full discussion of the links, see Stevens, 2007; Yuan, Koss, & Stone, 2006a; and Fellitti et al., 1998), indicating that many survivors seen at rape crisis centers and domestic violence programs are also adult survivors of child sexual abuse.”