Helping Child Sex Abuse Victims & their Parents Move Forward
Much attention is being paid to victims of child sex abuse before and during the criminal trial of their abuser. Victims receive the customary outpouring of public sympathy and righteous indignation on their behalf. But what happens after the abuser is convicted and imprisoned?
The psychological and physical problems resulting from the sexual abuse don’t just fade away with the public furor. Childhood sexual abuse often causes a lifetime of mental health issues. Victims battle with feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and anxiety for years afterward. They often have difficulty forming meaningful relationships as adults. In extreme cases, sex abuse victims turn to self-harm or suicide to escape their mental strife.
“Letting the Future In”
But there is hope on the horizon for victims of childhood sexual abuse and their families. An independent study published by Durham University and the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom has found hope. “Letting the Future In” is a program designed by the British National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Initial reports indicate that it is effective at helping children move past the abuse and lead healthier, happier lives.
According to the framework of Letting the Future In, trained social work professionals provide therapy to children between the ages of 4 and 17 who experienced some form of sexual abuse. Rather than focus on traditional therapy techniques which are customarily used for adults, however, the LTFI model encourages the use of creative therapies like creative writing, drawing, and painting. Allowing children to speak about their past trauma on their own terms, as well as give creative vent to their deepest feelings about it, has been proven to be an effective therapeutic approach. Through the creative process, children are allowed to gently confront what happened to them, accept it, absolve themselves of pain, guilt, and shame, and move on with their lives. Parents and caregivers are also given the option to attend joint and individual therapy sessions with their children.
Letting the Future In has the following positive effects:
- Almost 75% of children over the age of eight started the program with severe emotional difficulties. After 6 months, less than 50% still had emotional problems.
- Almost 90% of children under the age of eight commenced the program with high levels of trauma-related stress. After one year of LTFI care, however, only 40% still reported severe emotional distress.
- Children and parents who had completed the Letting the Future In program reported an improvement in mood, higher levels of confidence, less guilt and blame directed inward, less anger and anxiety, a reduction in depression, more healthy sleeping patterns, and a fuller understanding of acceptable sexual behavior.
Professor of Social Work and Applied Social Science John Carpenter of the University of Bristol, one of the leaders of the study, spoke highly of Letting the Future In’s capacity to aid sexually traumatized children. According to Carpenter, the study’s findings demonstrate “the importance of offering therapeutic support to children and young people who have been sexually abused, to help them deal with their experience.”