The prefrontal cortex (the thinking brain) controls the amygdala (the primitive brain) in all situations other than trauma. During a traumatic event, the amygdala takes over, and the goal becomes survival. Automatic, life-saving responses highjack the thinking brain, forcing it to choose between flight, fight or freeze. This response happens involuntarily.
If the sexual abuse occurs more than once and over time, the strong, primitive responses of fight, flight or freeze are repeatedly triggered. Sometimes, a child is left constantly looking for signs of potential threat and ready to choose flight, fight or freeze at a moment’s notice
While a disclosure of sexual abuse may feel isolating, remember that neither you nor your child are alone in this experience. In fact, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be victims of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday, and healing from sexual abuse is absolutely possible with guidance and support. The good news is that despite a 2 percent rise in sexual abuse cases in 2012, there has been a steady decline since the early 1990s, which correlates with the growing trend in public awareness of child abuse. Early prevention efforts in schools and communities that educated adults about the risk of sexual abuse and children about “personal safety” had an enormous effect on public awareness.
Over the past decade, survivors, caregivers, professionals and concerned community members have shed the shame that often surrounds child sexual abuse, speaking out to share their stories, empower fellow survivors and demand community action to better support survivors and prevent abuse. As we shine light into dark places, perpetrators are losing their greatest advantages: sexual abuse thrives in silence, secrecy and denial. The following statistics shed light on the scope of the problem of childhood sexual abuse.
Triggers may also initiate a flashback, which is the feeling that the event is currently happening. During a flashback, the child’s primitive brain may automatically take control to deal with what is perceived to be reality. When this happens, the child will choose flight, fight or freeze. One good response is to help the child regain a connection with the environment. For example, you might say, “Look at the sky. See the birds? Can you hear them?” Don’t be surprised if it takes a while to reconnect. Keep trying. Do not address behavior and emotions until the child is reconnected.
FLORIDA : Florida Council Against Sexual Violence
Crisis Hotline : 1.888.956.RAPE (7273)
UNITED STATES : RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network)
Crisis Hotline : 1.800.656.HOPE (4673)
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