I was hurt or abused as a child

If you are an adult who experienced abuse as a child you may never have felt able to talk to someone about what happened. Or, you may have tried to talk to someone and not felt heard.

By just reading this page you have had the courage to take the first difficult steps to seeking help.

What happened to you as a child may have had a deep and possibly devastating effect. As an adult, you may have experienced anxiety, anger, low moods and feelings of guilt and shame. You may also have had problems with relationships, difficulty trusting other people or behaved in ways which put yourself at risk or danger. It's important to understand that all abuse is wrong and it is NEVER the child's (or young person's) fault.

Whatever the difficulties that you are experiencing now, there is help and support available in Leeds and you are not alone. There are people who will believe what you have to say and who want to support you.

What is child sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse is when any person - whether a parent, care-giver, family member, teacher, family friend, baby sitter or a stranger - involves a child or young person in any kind of sexual activity. This could mean being forced or manipulated into taking part in a sexual act, inappropriate touching or being involved in any kind of sexual behaviour (which may not involve touching). It could happen just once or it might happen repeatedly over a period of time.

Any child in any family could experience sexual abuse - and while girls are more likely to be abused it can happen to boys as well. It is also true that, while men are much more likely to carry about abuse, sometimes women can be responsible.

As well as sexual abuse - child abuse can take other forms - it can be emotional, physical or it can happen through neglect:

Emotional abuse is when a parent or care-giver doesn't show love or affection to a child or comfort them when they are scared or anxious. It can also include:

  • Name-calling and saying things that are hurtful or cruel such as 'you are worthless' or 'useless'.
  • Controlling or emotionally manipulative behaviour.
  • Constantly punishing a child without real cause.
  • Belittling - making the child feel small or unimportant.

Physical abuse is when an adult hurts a child on purpose with the intention of making them feel pain and suffering. This can include hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, cutting, biting or burning. Physical abuse puts a child in immediate danger but can also have lasting effects on their emotional wellbeing as well.

Neglect is when a parent or care-giver fails to look after a child's basic physical needs. It can mean a child is left alone in a situation that is not safe, or is not kept warm and clean or given enough food to eat.

If you need support for physical or emotional abuse or for neglect experienced as a child - help is available through Leeds domestic violence services.

What are the possible long-term effects of experiencing child sexual abuse?

Early experiences can greatly affect how a child or young person's mind develops. When someone experiences abuse as a child it can shape their emotional development - affecting both their sense of self-worth and their ability to trust other people.

And while long-term effects differ from person-to-person, you may be experiencing one or more of the following effects. These may be mild, or, they could be having a significant impact on your day-to-day life. You can find information to help you take care of yourself and find ways of coping on this page.

  • Difficult emotions - feeling low, sad, anxious, angry or irritable sometimes. Mood swings which can include feelings of intense distress and possibly thoughts of suicide.
  • Feeling alone and difficulty in having healthy relationships - finding it hard to trust other people and withdrawing from fear of getting hurt. Some people expect to be 'let down' which can mean they are more likely to be pulled into difficult or abusive relationships.
  • Feelings of shame and guilt - adult survivors can experience low self-esteem and can feel 'worthless', 'useless' or 'not good enough.' Some people can also either expect far too much of themselves, or, may not expect anything at all.
  • Feeling powerless - finding it hard to say 'no' when necessary or asserting your own needs.
  • Sexual difficulties - including problems with physical contact and intimacy.
  • Anxiety and feeling fearful of possible danger, phobias especially a fear of being in crowds and being around strangers and panic attacks.
  • 'Flashbacks' which are very powerful memories of what happened and nightmares.
  • Dissociation - feeling sometimes detached or disconnected from what's going on around you.
  • Memory problems - some people may only remember small fragments of what happened or may not be able to recall whole periods of their childhood.

The above are all normal reactions to experiencing trauma and have been experienced by many other adult survivors. Many of these responses are the mind's way of protecting itself from re-living the distressing experience and from experiencing more pain and upset.

Some adult survivors may turn to different ways of coping to help them deal with or manage very difficult thoughts and memories. These can include: drinking too much, taking drugs, gambling, spending too much money, eating disorders, self-harm, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or other behaviour which could be dangerous or risky. What's important is that you are safe now and find the support you need. If you need to talk to someone about any of these issues - you can find help in I need help now.

If you would like to find out more about the possible effects of child sexual abuse – download this resource:

What are the possible long-term effects of experiencing child sexual abuse?

Who can I talk to?

It's natural that you may have all kinds of worries and concerns about telling someone close to you - especially if the person who abused you was a family member or family friend.

When and if you tell anyone about what happened to you is totally your decision. You're in charge now. If you do decide to share what happened to you with someone - often referred to as 'disclosing' - it's important to talk to someone you can trust and choose a time that is right for you.

The first person you talk to may not know how to react or what to say at first and they may feel shocked by what you have to say. Give them some time and don't lose hope.

If you decide that you don't feel right about talking to family or friends at this time, or you just need more support, it can help to talk to your GP or a counsellor. Talking to someone you don't know about something so personal can be very difficult but it is often the first step to finding the right support.

You can find a range of organisations who offer counselling services on MindWell. It is alright to ask a counsellor if they have experience of supporting adults who have been abused as children. And if you find that you are not comfortable with a certain counsellor or you don't think you are making progress it is also OK to ask for someone else. It is worth remembering that a counsellor will not tell you what to do but is there to give you a space in which you can explore ways to feel better.

Peer support can connect you with people with similar experiences so that you can share emotional support, encouragement and practical help. Joining a peer support group can help you to find and develop effective ways of coping in a space that is safe and supportive.

What should I do if I need help immediately?

If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or taking your own life, it is very important that you arrange an urgent appointment with a health professional such as your GP so they can find the right support for you.

If you feel you cannot wait to see your GP, NHS111, the non-emergency number is open 24 hours a day. You will speak to a highly trained adviser, supported by healthcare professionals. They will ask you a series of questions to assess your symptoms and immediately direct you to the best medical care for you.

The Crisis Assessment Service (CAS) is an assessment service for people who are experiencing mental health problems which might cause them to hurt themselves or someone else. It is open 24 hours, seven days a week. 'An assessment service' means that a health worker will talk to you about your mental health crisis and discuss what may be available to help you. They will initially offer telephone advice and support but will meet you for a face-to-face assessment if necessary. Call 0300 300 1485. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can text 07983 323867.

The Connect helpline on 0808 800 1212 (freephone) gives emotional support and information to people in Leeds every night of the year (6pm-2am).

The Samaritans on 116 123 (freephone) is open 24 hours a day.

If you feel that you or someone else is in immediate danger, you should call 999 immediately.

Further information is available about support in a crisis here.

Find support

Please note - many of these websites are excellent sources of information or support. It can sometimes, however, be upsetting to explore difficult experiences online. It may be better to look at these websites when you know you will be seeing or talking to someone you trust for emotional support.

Support for all survivors

West Yorkshire Victim Support is open weekdays (8am-8pm) if you need to talk to someone about any crime that you have experienced (including childhood abuse) – call 0300 303 1971. It doesn't matter whether you have reported the crime or how long ago it took place. The Victim Support national helpline is open through the night (8pm-8am) and all weekend - call 0808 16 89 111 (freephone).

Survivors West Yorkshire provides support both to men and women in West Yorkshire who have been affected by sexual violence.

Mosaic II is a support service for survivors and their families in Bradford and Airedale whose lives have been affected by sexual abuse. Mosiac II is a charity which offers therapeutic, advice and advocacy services.

Napac is a national freephone support line for adults who have experienced any type of abuse in childhood. Call 0808 8010331, 10am-9pm Monday to Thursday and 10am-6pm on Fridays.

Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre (RASASC) is a national freephone helpline which supports any man or woman who has experienced rape or sexual abuse (or their supporters). Call 0800 0288022 7.30-9.30pm, Sunday-Friday (closed bank holidays). The helpline will not be available on Sunday evenings until 3 September 2017.

Lifecentre is a charity that supports male and female survivors of rape and sexual abuse of all ages. Call the free national helpline on 0808 802 0808.

The Survivors Trust is a UK-wide national umbrella agency for 135 specialist organisations which support people in the UK who have experienced rape, sexual violence or childhood sexual abuse. For support, advice and info call 0808 801 0818.

Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors (PODs) is a project providing support to people who have experienced dissociation. Helpline is open on Tuesdays 11am-5pm – call 0800 1814420.

Peer support - find out more about peer support in Leeds including Us - a safe peer support platform managed by Leeds Mind.

The Samaritans is open 24 hours a day. Call 116 123.

There is more help for who to talk to in a mental health emergency in I need help now.

Support for women

Women's Counselling and Therapy Service offers counselling to women in Leeds who have experienced childhood abuse (waiting lists for this service can be long). Call 0113 2455725.

Basis Yorkshire supports women over the age of 18 living in Leeds who have experienced child sexual exploitation (a form of child sexual abuse). Basis can offer emotional support, referral to a range of other services and information about options to report to the police. You can refer yourself to this service. Call 0113 2430036.

SARSVL is the Rape Crisis Centre for Leeds offering support to all women who have been affected by sexual violence of any kind at any time in their lives. As well as providing support by phone and text, SARVSL offer face-to-face appointments in a women-only safe space in the city centre. A volunteer will listen and help you talk about how you are feeling. Call 0808 802 3344 (freephone) or you can text 07797 803 211.

Support for men

Survivors UK offers a range of support services including counselling and therapy appointments as well as web and SMS chat services to men who have been raped or who have experienced sexual abuse. Call 02035983898.

Mankind work with men who have been affected by unwanted sexual experiences. It does not matter how long ago your experiences took place. Call the national helpline 02035 983898.

Learn more

MindWell has a range of self-help and resources for anxiety, depression, stress, sleeping problems and self-harm.

Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust self-help leaflet - explore self-help leaflet for abuse.

Survivors West Yorkshire - has self-help guides for male and female survivors and their supporters.

Survivors UK - has a range of helpful resources.

Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors (PODs) - information and resources for people who have experienced dissociation

Help for Victims - provides information about how people affected by crime and witnesses should be treated within the Criminal Justice System.

'The Courage to Heal' by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis - a guide to the healing process with personal stories and resources which can help you talk to someone about what happened to you.

'Breaking free: Help for survivors of child sexual abuse' by Carolyn Ainscough and Kay Toon - self-help book for survivors which looks at the effects of abuse and includes personal stories.

Ask the Police website - information about reporting sexual abuse to the Police.

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