26/10/2012 08:44 BST | Updated 26/12/2012 05:12 GMT

Surviving Sexual Abuse

By Carol Martin-Sperry author of Good Sex, Bad Sex, No Sex: Tales from the Sex Couch

The issues around sexual abuse are both murky and mucky. It's a nasty business.

Victims experience many conflicting and confusing feelings and are often too ashamed and fearful to speak out. The abuser exercises power and control in order to get his sexual needs met, usually in the form of manipulation, exploitation and emotional blackmail. The victims feel paralysed and powerless.

The psychological fallout for the victim can last a lifetime and may include feelings of shame and guilt, post-traumatic stress, loss of trust and security, fear of intimacy and commitment, to name but a few. Physical symptoms such as depression, eating disorders, addiction, co-dependence, self-harm, sexual and gynaecological difficulties, as well as inappropriate behavior and suicidal feelings may occur in their adult life.

These are vulnerable people who have been damaged. Coming forward and speaking out about their abuse is an act of enormous courage. The risks are that they won't be believed or taken seriously and that they may be re-traumatised and put back in touch with painful feelings and sensory memories.

Disclosure can bring healing but it must be handled with great sensitivity, without prurience or judgment. Their stories can be heard and validated, they are no longer alone with their dirty secret, there can be a feeling of great relief and their deep psychic wounds can begin to scar after what is often many years of painful silence.

Let's start listening so that victims become survivors.

Carol Martin-Sperry is author of Good Sex, Bad Sex, No Sex: Tales from the Sex Couch