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Why People Carry the Secret of Childhood Sexual Abuse into Adulthood

Survivors of sexual abuse are coming forward now more than ever before, largely due to political movements and increased solidarity and transparency from other survivors. Despite the positive changes, we can’t forget that a majority of sexual assaults go unreported (RAINN). In fact, many childhood survivors of sexual assault have never told anyone about their abuse, let alone reported it to authorities.

Psychologists have identified many reasons why childhood survivors stay silent. Let’s look at some of their thoughts to educate ourselves and our circles of influence about the psychology of silence.


Many believe sexual assault is clearly defined, but childhood survivors may have a hard time identifying their experiences as sexual attacks.

Common scenarios/beliefs that may make a survivor confused include:

  • If a survivor believes he or she welcomed or accepted the act, “I wanted my attacker to like/accept me;”
  • If a survivor believes sexual abuse stems from intercourse only, “he only took pictures of me;”
  • If the abuser is an older child instead of an adult, “we were just playing;”
  • If a survivor’s body responds to the violence with pleasure, “I must have liked it;”
  • If the attack seems like a distant memory due to disassociation, “it must have been a dream.”

While many child survivors deal with confusion, denial is another common reason survivors stay silent.


Denial is when a sexual abuse survivor has difficulty coming to terms with the attack in some way. It’s a defense mechanism the brain uses to forget or block out intense pain caused by trauma.

There are many forms of survivor denial, which include:

  • Denying the abuse ever occurred;
  • Denying the abuse caused harm;
  • Denying the need for help since the abuse occurred years ago.

As some survivors struggle with denial, others find it difficult to overcome their fears.


Fear causes people to act in seemingly uncontrollable ways. The fight, flight, or freeze responses prove that fear can cause people to act in ways that surprise themselves.

Fears keeping survivors silent can stem from:

  • Perpetrators threatening survivors;
  • Survivors are afraid of not being believed;
  • Survivors are afraid of potential fallouts like familial disruptions.

While closely related to fear, shame is a different emotion that can result in survivor silence.


Shame commonly stems from situations in which people feel helpless and humiliated. For survivors of sexual assault, shame can increase exponentially as a result of facing something that is culturally taboo. This sense of shame can follow survivors for decades, and for many, the only plausible next step is to keep the shame to themselves.

Confusion, denial, fear, and shame are only some of the most common contributors to sexual abuse silence. However, there are resources available for those who have suffered at the hands of an abuser.

Resources for Survivors in Ventura

Here is a list of resources for survivors living in Ventura:

List of sexual abuse therapists nearby:

The phone number for counseling through RAINN:

(800) 656-4673

Rape Crisis Center:

Contact form for those looking to seek justice against their attackers: