It is difficult to get an accurate record of the actual number of children that have been sexually abused. Many cases never come to light and because of differences in definitions of sexual assault, some cases are missed (658).
Researchers have begun to explore the concept of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder with children and adults that were victims of sexual assault. Many times people associate particular events with particular stimuli. For example, certain orders, colors, sounds, and people can trigger a memory of a past event. This is truer for victims of sexual assault. According to Wolf, Sas, and Wekerle, 'traumatic episodes become associated with particular eliciting stimuli and can lead to maladaptive or a typical reactions. Such conditioning can play an important role in the formation of children's adjustment disorders subsequent to sexual abuse (Wolf et al. 38).'
Because people do not anticipate an abusive episode, there are usually things the victim cannot control. Sexual abuse is such a stressful event to where it has the capability to produce a form of a coping reaction. Since children are impressionable, the perpetrator may threaten the child not to confess. Child victims of child sexual assault are also tortured by nightmares, recurring images of the event, and troubling memories. 'Based on interviews with children who have been exploited by adults through sex rings and pornography, 65 of 60 children reported intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares. Physical symptoms (eg. Somatic complaints, sleep problems, excessive crying) and greater social withdraw and distrust of others were also noted among a sizeable proportion of this sample (Wolf et al. 39).'
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is diagnosed with the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptom Checklist. The test consists of a list of 43 'adjustment problems' with 23 items spanning the range of symptoms characterizing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as defined in the DSM-III Categories for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Participants were considered Posttraumatic Stress Disorder positive if they indicated on the test that they had re-experienced the traumatic event, became avoidant, and had increased arousal. The test also indicated whether or not the participant had a 'moderate problem' or 'partial' Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Rowan 55).'
PTSD is treated by a variety of forms of psychotherapy and drug therapy. There is no definitive treatment, and no cure, but some treatments appear to be quite promising, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and exposure therapy. Exposure therapy involves having the patient repeatedly relive the frightening experience under controlled conditions to help him or her work through the trauma. Studies have also shown that medications help ease associated symptoms of depression and anxiety and help with sleep. The most widely used drug treatments for PTSD are the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac and Zoloft. At present, cognitive-behavioral therapy appears to be somewhat more effective than drug therapy. However, it would be premature to conclude that drug therapy is less effective overall since drug trials for PTSD are at a very early stage. Drug therapy appears to be highly effective for some individuals and is helpful for many more. In addition, the recent findings on the biological changes associated with PTSD have spurred new research into drugs that target these biological changes, which may lead to much increased efficacy.
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Famularo R, Kinscherff R, Fenton T. Symptom differences in acute and chronic presentation of childhood post-traumatic stress disorder. Child Abuse Negl 1990;14:439 -- 44.
Saigh, P.A. (2004). A structured interview for diagnosing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Children's PTSD Inventory. San Antonio, TX: PsychCorp.
Walker, J. (2009). Anxiety associated with post traumatic stress disorder: The role of quantitative electroencephalograph in diagnosis and in guiding neurofeedback training to remediate the anxiety. Biofeedback, 37(2), 67-70
Harris, H.N., & Valentier, D.F. (2002). World assumptions, sexual assault, depression and fearful attitudes toward relationships. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17, 286-305.