Child abuse can happen in different ways, and can include neglect as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse. In many cases, people experience more than one type of abuse.

Often, people abuse others because they want power and control over them. If you were abused as a child, it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault or because of anything that you did. Abusive behaviour towards children is always wrong and never the child’s fault.

We know that around one in four adults, both male and female, has experienced abuse as a child. Some find that with the support of their family and friends they are able to move on from their childhood abuse. But for many survivors, talking about the abuse to someone who is professional, caring and independent, from an organisation that helps survivors, such as Victim Support, is an essential step. We can help you to develop the coping strategies you may need to manage the overwhelming feelings that the impact of childhood abuse can have in adulthood.

Everyone is different. It’s not easy to know exactly how you will feel as an adult living with past experiences of being abused. You may have reported the abuse as a child, lived with it in secret for years, or only recently remembered the abuse you experienced. However, it’s possible that at some time in your adult life your memories or fears will come back, which can lead to some very intense emotions.

Different life experiences can trigger these emotions, including bereavement, becoming a parent, experiencing an unrelated crime, moving to a new area, and current news stories in the media.

Emotional health

Not everybody who has experienced childhood abuse will also experience emotional or mental health difficulties. However, it’s estimated that over 50% of people may have the following symptoms that last into adulthood:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • post-traumatic stress
  • sleep disorders
  • self-harm and/or suicidal thoughts.

Physical health

Childhood abuse is associated with poorer physical health in adulthood. You may find it more difficult to go to your local GP, hospital or dentist to get help for general medical issues or a check-up because of not wanting to be touched or asked questions.

Some people find it very difficult to deal with the intimate aspects of childhood abuse, especially when they have to talk to other people about what happened. They may have kept their experiences secret for years and are worried about the effect that ‘going public’ will have on their family and other people around them.

If you were abused by someone you know or love, the effects may be even greater. As well as the experience itself, you’ve had your trust broken at an early point in your life; this can have lasting negative effects on your relationships with other people and be a barrier to developing a positive sexual identity.

Abuse in childhood can also leave you feeling very confused; you may be questioning your own memories of the abuse, or wondering if you could have done something to stop what happened. It’s important to remember that you were a child and the abuser manipulated you in order to harm you.

Survivors may also feel guilty because as a result of abuse, they have engaged in risk taking or unhealthy behaviours. These may include alcohol or substance abuse, criminal activity or avoiding medical help. These are common responses to childhood abuse, and support services will understand this and help you develop more positive coping strategies.

Childhood abuse can be particularly difficult to deal with on your own. Some things you can do are:

  • Talk to someone you trust. Many survivors find that talking to a specialist agency or independent person, such as a GP, is a first step to understanding what has happened, and working out how to move forward. You can also talk to Victim Support for free and confidential support, regardless of whether you have reported the abuse.
  • Survivor forums, such as the NAPAC website, enable you to share your story anonymously with other survivors.
  • Get help for any specific issues, such as drug and alcohol misuse, offending behaviours, or parenting challenges. The professionals who work in these areas will be experienced in supporting survivors of childhood abuse, and will be able to give you the expert help that you need.
  • Report the abuse to the police. Even though it may have been many years since the abuse happened, the police are trained to respond sensitively and to take all disclosures of childhood abuse seriously. Read the Victim Reporting Factsheet to learn how to report abuse and what will happen next.
  • If your abuse happened within an organisation or institution (such as schools, children’s homes, hospitals or charities) where you should have been protected as a child, you can get help from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. The inquiry will also examine cases of child sexual abuse involving well-known people in the media, politics and other areas of public life.

We believe that everyone who has experienced childhood abuse should be able to get the help they need, and the support that will empower them to recover from the impact of abuse. We don’t just help people who’ve recently been abused – we are here to support both men and women weeks, months and years after the abuse took place.

We have different services in different parts of the country. All of our services are confidential, free and available to anyone who’s been abused. We can help, regardless of whether you have told the police or anyone else about the abuse.

Our ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advocates) services are staffed by specialist caseworkers and supported by specialist volunteers. They’ll help you to decide what action you want to take and the support and help that feels right for you. ISVAs often support survivors through the criminal justice system, and co-ordinate health and support services.

Our victims’ services teams work with anyone affected by crime. They’ll help you decide on the range of support and help that might benefit you.

We will work with you in a confidential way. This means that we will not share any information with your family, the police or anyone else without your permission. The only time we will ever share any information without your permission is if we are worried about a child or vulnerable person’s safety.

We may be worried that if you tell us about an adult who abused you as a child, they may be in a position where they have abused, or are still abusing, another person. We will always explain to you our boundaries of confidentiality and talk to you about how we can best share information with the police if necessary, while helping to keep you safe.

When you report a crime to the police, they should automatically ask you if you would like help from an organisation like Victim Support. But anyone affected by crime can contact us directly if they want to – you don’t need to talk to the police to get our help.

You can contact us by:

If English is not your first language and you would like some support, call our Supportline and let us know which language you speak, and we will call you back with an interpreter as soon as possible. We also welcome calls via Relay UK on 18001 08 08 16 89 111.

Families and friends affected by crime can also contact us for support and information. If you’re a child or young person under 18 and are looking for support, visit our You & Co website, where we have lots of information and tips specifically for children and young people.

Our interactive resource, My Support Space, has a number of guides designed for adult survivors of child sexual abuse. It’s a free, safe, secure and confidential space where you can choose how you want to be supported after crime. Guides specific to surviving child sexual abuse include:

  • Coping with trauma

This guide that looks at what trauma is and the different ways in which it may be affecting you. It covers what flashbacks and panic attacks are, and tips for coping with both, and can help you to understand how you react to stress, and how to cope with disassociation.

You can also download our Coping with trauma workbook (pdf).

  • Male survivors

This guide looks at the unhelpful social attitudes, stigma, and myths surrounding child sexual abuse experienced by men. It can also help you to explore why you may feel shame, and can help you to learn about self-compassion and building your resilience as you move forward.

You can also download our Male survivors workbook (pdf)

  • Relationships and parenting

This guide explores how partners of survivors of child sexual abuse are affected and tips for building and maintaining relationships. It also looks at aspects of parenting including pregnancy, birth, becoming a new parent and tips for parent survivors of child sexual abuse.

You can also download our Relationships and parenting workbook (pdf)

  • Seeking justice

This guide covers your decision to report, and what to expect once you’ve reported the crime. It covers the timelines of a case investigation, what special measures are, what happens on the day of the trial, sentencing, and gives an overview of restorative justice.

You can also download our Seeking justice workbook (pdf)

  • Understanding shame and guilt

This guide explores what shame is and how it may affect you as a survivor of child sexual abuse. It also has tips for encouraging self-compassion, raising self-esteem and building resilience.

You can also download our Understanding shame and guilt workbook (pdf)

You can create your account any time at My Support Space.