Local mental health experts give insight into far-reaching effects of sexual abuse

With her identity protected by authorities and her privacy honored by the media, the public likely will never know if the alleged victim of Dover Area School District Matthew Puterbaugh suffered any emotional trauma from the reported sexual abuse.

Some local mental health experts were able to weigh in with their professional experience with what sexual abuse victims can encounter.

Dr. Jean Pollack, of Innovative Counseling Services, Inc., which has offices in Hanover and York, said:

The survivor of sexual abuse can experience fear, guilt and shame. It can be very devastating when the perpetrator is an adult mentor such as a teacher.

When sexual abuse occurs by a teacher toward a student, the school must attempt to establish a safe environment for the victim and other students to ensure their safety and to allow trust to develop again.

The survivor will also benefit from therapy to address possible low self-esteem, depression, sleep disturbance and difficulty trusting.

If the survivor’s feelings are not addressed, the survivor may negatively cope with alcohol, substances, eating disorders or cutting.

A person who sexually abuses children many times has been sexually abused themselves. The urge to sexually abuse a child can be attributed to biological and environmental factors of the perpetrator’s childhood years.

Lancaster therapist and owner-director of Oasis Counseling, Jeff Bare, said:

Any child, regardless of the age, who is exposed to any type of sexual activity before he/she is developmentally or psychologically prepared to process what is happening will be effected negatively by what they are experiencing.

For a child, the results can be seen as eating and sleeping disorders, bed wetting, regression (behavior indicative of a much younger child), anger outbursts, depression, and night terrors to name a few.

Adolescents can present with similar behaviors.

Teens and young adults typically respond by engaging in risky behaviors such as promiscuity, alcohol and drug use, or self-damaging behaviors such as cutting or suicidal gestures.

And boys and girls can respond differently.

Boys may become more aggressive or withdraw. Girls tend to harm themselves by cutting or developing eating disorders.

Please know that this is an extremely complex issue. Speaking in general terms does not do it justice.

The psychological effects on a victim of sexual abuse can be devastating and last a lifetime. Victims have difficulty with self-esteem and self-worth, along with difficulty maintaining healthy, satisfying relationships in their adult years.

About Rick Lee

Rick Lee is a veteran courthouse reporter for the York Daily Record/Sunday News. Contact him at rlee@ydr.com or call 495-1782.
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