Older Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

From Pandora’s Project, which is a resource for survivors of rape and child sexual abuse, Louise offers a powerful article about how, often, people in their forties, fifties and even sixties find that the past abuse becomes particularly difficult to manage – indeed, it may be only after 40 that many survivors even begin to face the past trauma.

Many survivors who write to and for The Healing Voices Magazine share a similar report: “Life was going along ‘just fine,’ when suddenly everything crashed….” This article by Louise is a well-researched exploration about just that.

Opening excerpt:


It is well-documented by writers and researchers that there are times in the lives of abuse survivors when they will be more prone to thoughts and feelings about their histories. Circumstances that can instigate the re-opening of abuse-related wounds include pregnancy, a fresh encounter with sexual assault whether against the survivor or somebody close, children becoming the same age the survivor was at the time of their assault, or being in a safe relationship and no longer needing to merely survive. Another context for the arousal of early abuse-related trauma can be approaching, or having entered, middle-age. 

You may be a survivor of child sexual abuse who is now in your late thirties, forties, fifties or beyond, and you may be finding that your feelings around what you experienced are worse than they have ever been, or at any rate worse that they’ve been for a long time. You may be confused as to why this is happening now. Life changing events such as medical scares, dying abusers, bereavement, retrenchment and ill spouses are things older survivors must often contend with. You may not expect such events to have triggered off earlier trauma, and you may be shocked and frightened by the strength of nightmares, flashbacks and other symptoms.

Or perhaps there’s no precipitating event you can pinpoint as starting it all, but you’ve found that you suddenly can’t stop thinking about what happened when you were younger. It may be that you’ve retired, your kids have left home and life has fewer extraneous distractions. This can be a time when traumatic issues begin to clamour for attention.

If this is you, please know that even if you feel anything but normal right now, what is happening to you is not at all unusual. This appears to be a common aspect of survivorship. In writing about adult survivors of child abuse, trauma expert and psychiatrist Judith Herman says:

As the survivor struggles with the tasks of adult life, the legacy of her childhood becomes increasingly burdensome. Eventually, often in the fourth or fifth decade of life, the defensive structure may begin to break down. Often the precipitant is a change in the equilibrium of close relationships: The failure of a marriage, the illness or death of a parent. The facade can hold no longer, and the underlying fragmentation becomes manifest. When and if a breakdown occurs, it can take symptomatic forms that mimic virtually every form of psychiatric disorder. Survivors fear that they are going insane or will have to die (1992 p. 114). 

I’m going to tell you about how this happened to me, then we’ll look at other important aspects of this process, and getting better.

About me

I am a survivor of child sexual and other abuse who had undertaken successful healing work. Yet, two years ago in 2008 when I was 41, I experienced a major event that was for me the catalyst for developing panic disorder and agoraphobia. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) returned with such a vengeance that I was certain I had never before experienced it so badly. I could not allow myself to think about my history of child sexual and other abuse without experiencing the most dizzying terror about it all. I wondered if my past had finally defeated me. If you would like to read more about this part of my journey, here is a link. Two years later I am much stronger and have a greater appreciation of why this happened. I also know that I am part of a much larger group of older survivors to have felt such an impact – my older friends at Pandora’s Aquarium have been a major source of reassurance and validation to me, as was returning to therapy, and I’ll say more about this below….

For the full article, click here.

4 thoughts on “Older Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

  1. Thank you for this article. With all of the press about sexual abuse in the media these days, from show business, Bill Cosby, Dr. Larry Nasser (from my own state of Michigan) to hearing how President Trump speaks about women, it shouldn’t be a surprise that my past trauma scabs have been scraped back open!

    Another reason an older person may experience a occurrence of the symptoms of their trauma of sexual abuse as a child is because they got re-assaulted, even as an adult. We know for a fact that victims of childhood sexual assault seem to be at a high risk of being re-assaulted. I got sexually assault in January 2017 by a massage therapist. Out of a total of 27 women I was one of the first to file an official police report, though the last to have been assaulted. The reason, I believe was because the healing I have done from my childhood abuse has made me a strong woman. In fact, when I filed the police report, with the help of my Diocesean Victim Advocate, there were about 5 other women, who over the previous year had also made police reports, none of whom were willing to press charges and risk going to court. However, once I made my statement and declared yes I would press charges, the District Attorney’s office made sure that this case was covered on the news. A video of the massage therapist being arrested was on the local news, and they continue to follow the case. As a result of the news coverage, more and more women came forward with their stories of abuse by this man. As the court case progressed, it was myself and one other victim that chose to give a victim impact statement at the sentencing of this man. Although I am proud I had the healing and the stability to step up to the challenge of pressing charges, as you can imagine, my scars from the past also got ripped open, and I experience more bleeding.

    I was shocked and devastated that I would experience so much bleeding about not only the recent assault, but about the childhood sexual assault by a priest that I had experienced. As the article states, I too thought, “I thought I had dealt with this!” I questioned myself about whether I was back where I had started, and most importantly, why didn’t I learn the first time, how could I have allowed this sexual assault to even have taken place? My first inclination, as with most all survivors was to blame myself.

    I am continuing in therapy to stop this round of bleeding, and to have those scars close back up again. But I really want to thank you for the timeliness of having shared this article from the Pandora website about Older Survivors of child Sexual Abuse. It could not have been more timely to encourage me on my new path of healing. The metaphor of healing being like peeling the layers of an onion couldn’t be more true. However, in this case, I am thankful that because I had already experienced quite a bit of peeling, I was one of the victim that stood up with said, “Yes, I am going to press charges”, which in turn led to other women also stepping up and saying #me too!

    Thank you,
    Ann Phillips Browning

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ann. This is such a powerful testimony. The editors here were hoping we could publish as an article and sent, through me, a suggested copy of it. What do you think? Peace and blessings, and hang in there. Our God is with us.


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