Supporting survivors of abuse

02 November 2018
3 min read
Volume 26 · Issue 11

Abstract

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse may have many reasons to fear pregnancy, birth and parenting. Sharon Belshaw, of charity Break The Silence, outlines how midwives can help

Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse report that their experiences of pregnancy and giving birth are very difficult and re-traumatising.

Having consulted those who attend Break the Silence, a charitable organisation supporting survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse, this article will explore the effect of their abuse and how this affected their birthing experiences.

Sexual activity can cause challenges for survivors. Many survivors have reported feelings of shame, guilt and blame associated with sexual activity and related to their abuse. Due to certain physiological defence mechanisms to protect against harm, such as lubrication, survivors often experience feelings of self-blame and these feelings may be reinforced by the perpetrator's coercion (with comments such as ‘you must have enjoyed it’). When survivors are visibly pregnant, they may worry that other people are aware they are sexually active, triggering feelings of guilt, shame and self-blame stemming from their abuse, which is often hidden, kept secret and private.

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