Previous Experiences of Sexual Violence

Childhood sexual abuse places individuals at a significantly elevated risk of experiencing sexual assault again as adults. Childhood sexual abuse survivors are four to six times more likely to experience sexual violence as an adult. The higher risk is often attributed to changes in behaviour that are likely to occur following a traumatic experience in childhood. These changes can include PTSD and its associated symptoms, problematic substance use, depression, low self-esteem, unclear understandings of consent and healthy relationships, and what is labeled as “risky behaviour”. These behaviours are labeled as such as they may bring an increased risk of physical and sexual victimization. They may include recreational drug use or dependency, casual and unprotected sex with multiple partners, excessive drinking, or partying. These behaviours are a response to the trauma experienced by survivors and are indicative of the complexities of coping and healing with trauma and trauma-related symptoms. Engagement in risky behaviour does not mean that a childhood survivor of sexual violence will be revictimized, nor does it minimize the violence a survivor may experience as an adult.

Supporting a person who has experienced childhood sexual violence can be more complex, as additional violent victimization can be both newly traumatic and re-triggering to old trauma. Complex compounding trauma may result in greater emotional dysregulation, triggers and flashbacks, intrusive and impulsive thoughts, and dissociation. Survivors may struggle to differentiate between experiences of trauma and may have heightened trauma responses.

Guide: PDF Version