Sexual Abuse Treatment

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What Is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse can be defined as a form of sexual violence, including:

  • Rape.
  • Unwelcome touching.
  • Molestation.
  • Forced intercourse.

Sexual abuse can occur at any age and is not biased towards race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Due to the complicated, extensive nature of how sexual abuse occurs, treatment can seem a daunting task.

It is important to note that most sexual abuse experts agree that sexual abuse encounters are not solely about sex. Generally, the perpetrator is looking to gain power and exert control over victims. Gaining control, for offenders, is often reinforced by the sexual encounter or the release attached to the feeling of overtaking his or her victim.

Why Is Treatment Necessary?

Quick intervention and information gathering after sexual assault can prove helpful in working with victims. Immediate response creates an environment of safety and open communication to allow the victim the ability to discuss the abuse openly without judgment.

This immediate response and development of rapport quickly also sets the tone for the victim to be able to reach out for help and support. If the abuse is perpetrated by a known person to the victim (member of the family or trusted friend), the abuse may be accompanied by a sense of betrayal. Victims may require release from the feelings of obligation to their abusers if the abuse happens over a course of time.

Types of Treatment for Sexual Abuse

Long-term therapy can be especially beneficial in managing symptoms that may occur after the trauma.

Treatment for sexual abuse is layered and is unique to each victim. While immediate intervention proves most effective in processing the event, long-term therapy can be especially beneficial in managing symptoms that may occur after the trauma. Some frequently used interventions include:

  • Trauma Focused CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).
  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).
  • Somatic Experiencing (SE).
  • Other traditional psychotherapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In addition, the implementation of Trauma Informed Care into mainstream therapy interventions gives a layer of trauma focus to standard group and individual therapy.


Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an updated approach on a heavily used therapeutic intervention – CBT. CBT helps victims dismiss old, maladaptive ways of thinking about the trauma, including uncovering assumptions. For example, a woman who was abused as a child may assume that all men are going to hurt her, so she avoids potential romantic relationships. Working with a therapist who is able to facilitate CBT can help review those automatic thoughts and dismiss, or rewrite, them. CBT lends itself to logical, short-term focused therapy, and can be very effective when a client is ready and willing to change.

Eye Movement and Desensitization (EMDR) is a relatively new therapeutic approach that uses eye movements to attempt to re-wire the brain and influence the way it processes the traumatic event. By changing these eye movements, the brain can review the traumatic event, face the trauma, and revamp the system’s reaction to the incident. In order to utilize this type of approach, therapists must obtain certification in EMDR.

Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a method for trauma resolution that focuses on discharging trapped energy, or resolving incomplete motor responses, that are “stuck” in the body. From a psychobiological perspective, SE recognizes that humans somatically (i.e., in the body) experience trauma in a similar way as animals. However, animals are much more likely to instinctually discharge frozen energy- allowing for trauma resolution. SE helps individuals slowly and gently develop a greater tolerance for uncomfortable sensations within the body. Unlike common cognitive and behavioral approaches to resolving trauma, SE does not require the individual to “reimagine” or “re-experience” the traumatic event; rather, the focus is on resolving the underlying physiological components that are maintaining anxiety, depression, and other trauma symptoms.

Key Elements of Successful Treatment

One essential element in the treatment of sexual abuse is patience of the therapist, and with that patience, giving survivors the opportunity to tell his or her story without assumption or judgment. In some ways, allowing a victim to simply recall the details of their event without being interrupted or questioned (such as in a hospital, when a social worker or law enforcement is completing the valuable information gathering) will prove fruitful in simply letting go of some of the connection to the event by removing it from his or her memory over time.

Another key element is remembering to allow victims to have “relapses,” or recognizing that healing does not happen on a continuum. Healing, in fact, looks more like a spiral. Some days will be better than other days.

Another consideration to study in the realm of treatment for sexual abuse victims is the overlap between abuse victims and addiction. Because sexual abuse is such a traumatic experience, many victims turn to self-medication/drug abuse as a simpler option to seeking professional help. It may be embarrassing for victims to ask for help (this is often the case in matters of sexual abuse perpetrated by a family member).

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

In cases where abuse is suspected, family members and friends should be mindful of symptoms like:

  • Withdrawal from social activities.
  • Sharp changes in interests both inside and outside the home.
  • Changes in mood.
  • Significant changes in appearance.
  • Unusually sexualized or promiscuous behavior.
  • Self-harm.

Should these symptoms surface, professional help as early as possible would benefit both the victim as well as provide support for healing.


To find help today, call 1-888-744-0069 to speak confidentially to someone who can go over your options with you.

Finding Treatment for Sexual Abuse

Both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs are available to victims, as well as perpetrators of abuse. Both settings are highly beneficial for clients dealing with issues interfering with daily living abilities, including work, home, and emotional relationships. The choice of settings is highly personal for each client and should be considered carefully.


In an inpatient setting, clients will find help and attention available to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Inpatient treatment is especially beneficial for those who have turned to substance use to self-medicate symptoms of depression and trauma. For clients dealing with addiction withdrawals, medical care is vital during the initial stages of recovery due to the potential of severe physical reactions to the removal of addictive substances from the system – especially for certain substances like alcohol and benzodiazepines which can create potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms.

Inpatient settings provide all necessary meals, living items, and round the clock care, so they can be expensive; however, they allow the patient to focus on recovery without any distraction and on a round-the-clock basis.

In an outpatient setting, clients attend classes, therapy sessions, and have medical checkups for set periods during the day.. This situation is often more ideal for clients who are not able to commit to time away from work or school, and it can be more cost-effective for many. However, careful consideration should be made when choosing this option; an inpatient setting often provides a focused approach due to the safe, controlled environment with less chance of exterior pressures influencing recovery. Beginning treatment in the outpatient setting provides a unique set of challenges due to integrating recovery into a client’s existing life, and should be considered carefully.

Recovery from sexual abuse is a long and difficult journey, but recovery and a return to a sense of normalcy is possible. Clients who dedicate time and energy into their personal journey early in the stages of recovery will experience the most success in building a foundation into their new standard of living. Clients who join a long-term support group for victims of sexual abuse may find the most success.

Call our helpline at 1-888-744-0069 to get assistance finding the right treatment for yourself or someone you love.


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Amanda Lautieri is a Senior Web Content Editor at American Addiction Centers and an addiction content expert for She holds a bachelor's degree and has reviewed thousands of medical articles on substance abuse and addiction.
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