Impacts of child sexual assault
While all women may have new or mixed feelings during pregnancy and becoming a parent, victim/survivors of child sexual assault may find some of their experiences during this time can remind them of the assault and provoke feelings they had then.
These might include:
- memories of the assault
- feelings of being out of control
- fear, distress or shame.
On this page:
- Touch, medical examinations and procedures
- Flashbacks and dissociation
- Support person
- After the birth
- Early parenting
- Finding support: Victoria
Touch, medical examinations and procedures
Medical examinations that involve direct touch by health professionals are a major part of pregnancy, giving birth and after birth. Medical procedures, examinations and the touch of a health professional may remind you of childhood sexual assault experiences.
General anxiety around touch and medical procedures can be reduced with the help of a sensitive health practitioner and by knowing exactly what to expect, and having your options explained.
You have a right to ask:
- why the touch, examination or procedure is needed and to have the process fully explained beforehand
- to have a female practitioner, if one is available
- what alternative options are available, i.e. a less invasive procedure such as an external instead of an internal ultrasound
- to have a support person with you
- to slow, pause or stop the procedure if you feel confused, uncomfortable or distressed.
Flashbacks and dissociation
Sometimes flashbacks can happen when victim/survivors of childhood sexual assault feel very anxious. Flashbacks are sudden and intrusive memories of the abuse, which may come in the form of visual memories, feelings and bodily sensations that you had at the time. Often victim/survivors say that flashbacks make them feel like the assault is happening in the present moment, which is very distressing.
Victim/survivors may also experience dissociation when they are very anxious. Dissociation is when you feel disconnected from yourself or your surroundings. Dissociation can be a good coping technique that helps you get through difficult situations. It can also prevent you from feeling or remembering things you really want to experience.
Choosing a support person to go with you to maternity appointments and who may also be present at the birth can help make you feel more comfortable. Many women choose their partner to be their main support person but some women may also ask another family member or friend to be with them. Some women may hire a private midwife or birth doula to give them this support in hospital.
There are many aspects of pregnancy that can feel outside a woman’s control – physical, emotional and psychological changes that she did not expect or that feel hard to predict.
For victim/survivors these experiences can be powerful reminders of childhood sexual assault. While it is not possible to know exactly what will happen during birth, many women find they can reduce their anxiety by preparing themselves by:
- reading pregnancy and parenting books and pamphlets
- speaking with their health worker or talking to a counsellor
- attending childbirth education classes
- writing a birth plan and giving copies to their support person/s and health workers.
After the birth
Hopefully your experience of birth will be positive but you may have questions relating to the birth that you still need to talk about. Some women:
- describe their experience of birth as traumatic and wonder about the possible link with their experiences of child sexual assault
- feel their fears or concerns aren't listened to by health professionals, or that they are made light of.
If you have questions or you feel unsettled about your birth experience ask to speak to a midwife present during the birth or you can ask to speak to a CASA counsellor/advocate or hospital social worker.
It is very normal in the first few days and even weeks after giving birth to feel new and strong emotions about your baby and yourself as a parent. Some women may feel immediately connected to their baby while other women find that it takes time to bond. Many women talk about feelings of joy and excitement about parenting, but also anxiety about their ability to care for a child. Victim/survivors of childhood sexual assault may worry that their experiences during childhood will affect their parenting.
Despite the challenges and difficulties, raising your child can be a good experience. You have the ability to give love and affection to your child and to provide them with a stable primary relationship.
Finding support: Victoria
- 24hr Sexual Assault Counselling and Support Line
1800 806 292
- PANDA (Post and Antenatal Depression Association Inc)
1300 726 306
- Parentline Victoria (A statewide telephone counselling service to parents and carers of children aged from birth to eighteen years)
13 22 89
The Women’s does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or use of such information or advice) which is provided on the Website or incorporated into it by reference. The Women’s provide this information on the understanding that all persons accessing it take responsibility for assessing its relevance and accuracy. Women are encouraged to discuss their health needs with a health practitioner. If you have concerns about your health, you should seek advice from your health care provider or if you require urgent care you should go to the nearest Emergency Dept.