My partner was sexually abused

Your partner was sexually abused

0022At some point in your relationship you came to find out your partner was sexually abused as a child.
Ideally your partner told you this before you started a relationship, but it doesn’t always work this way.
Some survivors from sexual abuse don’t know they were abused because of suppression or dissociation. Others do know but don’t want to talk about it, yet.

“Sweetheart, I’ve been sexually abused”

It’s not that easy to talk about, especially when you just start a new relationship. That’s why your loved one keeps quiet about it or procrastinates in telling you. Then all of a sudden you’re confronted with a dark cloud from the past. Your lover was hurt. Deeply.


It’s natural to become angry. But your partner will probably react in a different manner. It’s strange to realize that he/she may not share your anger. Especially when this is the first time he/she shares this, your partner may be inclined, out of misplaced loyalty, to defend the abuser. I think it’s important to remember that, although you feel like a bomb has just dropped on you, she has lived with this a long time. Knowingly or not.

Partners need help

At one point in my coaching practice my clients consisted of partners more than survivors. Men (and women) who’ve tried so hard for so long to be the ideal. understanding partner, but get stuck in: will it ever get any better? and When will we ever have a “normal” relationship?

It’s not easy being the partner of …

What are expectations of a so-called normal relationship? Intimacy, sexuality? Sure. Holding hands? Absolutely. Partners go without for long periods of time. Sometimes years. Add to that the unexpected, irrational outbursts when their loved ones are triggered and as a partner you can feel extremely lonely in your relationship.
You can call it a secondary trauma, if you will.

Don’t heal your partner, heal yourself

The question I most often hear is: Can you heal my partner?
I would like to share a very important tip: Please,help yourself.
You cannot change another person. The only thing you can change is your reaction to the other person. What can you do to change the pattern of you feeling sorry for and being scared of triggering your mate. Be conscious of what your wants and needs are.
Communicate. Communicate often.


For more information about the long term effects of child sexual abuse and how to heal from them, buy the book ‘I Thrive. Healing child sexual abuse’ at There’s a chapter in it geared towards partners specifically, but in addition, it will further your understanding of what child sexual abuse can do and how it can play out in the adult survivor.

New book on partners

note: Ivonne is writing another book as we speak, about partners of sexually abused survivors. Filled with tips and based on her experience as a coach to both survivors from sexual abuse as well as their partners. We will keep you posted. Expected in Dutch in April 2016.

Child sexual abuse is todays and tomorrows problem

DSC_0211Todays problem

Children are being sexually abused at alarming rates. While the world looks and points the finger at India, we fail to look at what’s happening in our own homes. One in three children is sexually abused and most of this abuse takes place in their own bed. Half of these children are abused by a parent, another staggering 30 percent by someone else in their family (older brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, grandparents, etc).

Child sexual abuse is not going to stop unless we stop looking away

Untill we start to realise and let it sink in that child sexual abuse is everywhere, is happening in your street, in your classroom, in your immediate circle of influence, we’re part of the problem.

Talk about child sexual abuse, esspecially if you are not a victim

Talking about child sexual abuse is going to help people come out about what has happened to them. Creating a society where we’re not afraid to tackle this tabu subject and bring what we think and feel about it out into the open will take concerted effort from everyone. In particular people who have not been abused as it is less difficult for them to talk about it.

Tomorrows problems

It’s not just the children we need to worry about and protect. Everyone who falls victim to child sexual abuse is at enormous risk of developing problems later on in life. As many as 50% of victims of child sexual abuse end up having serious mental health issues. The cumulative effect of child sexual abuse in combination with other problems in childhood is huge. You only need to look at the ACE study to know we can’t afford to ignore child sexual abuse happening now, to prevent problems in health care in the future.

The huge numbers of people who have been sexually abused

It may seem like there’s an explosion of sexual abuse at this moment, with big cases coming to light, it seems like every week. In terms of media attention, this is certainly the case. However, the hidden suffering is still many times greater than what these big cases imply. For every ‘Jimmy Saville’ who victimizes a large number of children, there’s at least 100 times as many children being victimized by someone within their family, and there has been for years. Earlier it was reported that possibly 11.000.000 English people have been a victim. The numbers are huge and the effects are devasting.

Helping people heal from child sexual abuse

My book helps people find a way to heal from child sexual abuse. It helps people who have been victimized to understand what they are dealing with in terms of the long term effects of child sexual abuse. It helps people who have not been a victim understand more about what the long term effects are and how they can help. We need all hands on deck for this one. We need to learn and educate ourselves and each other about child sexual abuse.


For more information about the long term effects of child sexual abuse and how to heal from them, buy the book ‘I Thrive. Healing child sexual abuse’ at

Have I been sexually abused?

gras2Have I been sexually abused?

Since I published my book, one of the most frequently asked questions in my e-mail is ‘Have I been sexually abused?’ or ‘Have I been molested?’ Quite often the answer is yes, but the reason people ask the question is very telling about the myths we still have about child sexual abuse. Just a few of the more common misperceptions:

‘I did not say no. Have I been sexually abused?’

As a child you are below the age of consent. This is so for a reason, the law protects children against adult sexuality. A child is all too easy to influence, dominate, manipulate or control. From a very early age children are taught that the adults have all the power and that they don’t have the right to say no to anything anyway. So not having said no doesn’t mean you weren’t sexually abused. It just means that you had no power in the situation and took the only option available to you: acquiescence. And yes, that means you’ve been sexually abused. In fact, this is the most common form of child sexual abuse there is. Most children don’t say no, don’t feel they have any other option. They feel trapped and unable to escape.

‘He did not go all the way, have I been sexually abused?’

Child sexual abuse is not limited to penetration. In fact, it can be very harmfull to a child to be looked at in a lurid manner. The essence of child sexual abuse is that you’re used for someone elses sexual gratification. This may include, but is not limited to, touching, fondling, taking pictures, having the child watch sexual activity (either live or on video/photo’s), sexchatting with a child (both live and online) and a myriad of other ways in which perpetrators get their jollies.

‘He was the same age as me. Have I been sexually abused?’

Strictly speaking, there is such a thing as ‘childs-play’, horsing around and discovering each others body. Was it? What makes you wonder if this was sexual abuse? Was there violence involved? Did he have undue influence on you? Did he threaten you in any way or make you keep quiet about it? In particular that last one, making you keep it a secret, is a red flag for child sexual abuse. If you’re just playing around, there’d be no harm in telling about it would there?

‘Others had it so much worse, does it even count as child sexual abuse?’

Oddly, variations of this question has been asked me by people who have suffered, in my mind anyway, horrendous child sexual abuse.

  • My brother the med-student examined my vagina with a speculum
  • My dad licked my ears in front of everybody
  • My aunt regularly sucked on my penis when I was 8.
  • I was made to ride on grandpa’s lap, rubbing against his chrotch.
  • I was ‘only’ raped a few times by my 25 year old boyfriend when I was 16.
  • He tried, but I was too small to be penetrated.
  • My mom showered with me till I was 16, frequently washing my penis.

If you have any doubt: all of these count as child sexual abuse and are very damaging to a child. In the case of child sexual abuse, ‘Who had it worse?’ is a mute question. The impact of child sexual abuse is huge, no matter how ‘small’ the infraction.

‘I have only vague memories. Have I been sexually abused?’

This is a difficult one. Quite often people ask me for advise on how to find out if they have indeed been sexually abused, thinking perhaps to get some hypnosis or regression therapy. I generally advise against using those therapies for this particular purpose because of the risk of creating false memories (these therapies can be very useful for healing child sexual abuse, but not for truth-finding). Whether you’ve been sexually abused can be much better accessed by jogging the memory. There are many ways of doing that, including going back to the places of your youth and having someone question you about your childhood in an open, exploring manner. Neutral questions about ‘Where did you sit at the dinnertable?’ or ‘What color was your favorite dress?’ can help you find back memories. Also, some of us may never know for sure. The trick then is to find a way to live with that and move beyond it. Healing is possible without knowing the details.

Questions to ask yourself if you think you’ve been sexually abused:

If you have taken a look at the self-test and find yourself thinking you’ve been abused, here’s some common sense questions that can help you think about it.

  • What makes you think you’ve been sexually abused?
  • Which circumstances in your past give rise to this possibility?
  • If you’ve been abused, at what age do you think it happened?
  • Do you have a possible perpetrator in mind?
  • Are there other possible explanations?

If you need help, please feel free to contact me. I offer online coaching and I specialize in helping people heal from child sexual abuse.


For more information about the long term effects of child sexual abuse and how to heal from them, buy the book ‘I Thrive. Healing child sexual abuse’ at

Repeat after me: ‘Obedience is our enemy’

Abusers know best how to instill obedience in a child

‘Don’t tell mommy, we’ll both be in trouble’, is one of many standard sentences that abuser use to make sure the child keeps their secret. Instilling a sense of shame and guilt is a very effective method of control. Usually the abuser will add in a sense of complicity: ‘You and me against the world’, ‘Our little secret’ and ‘You’re so smart, other people won’t understand’. A mix of friendliness and threats often keep the child from telling for many years.

Complicity and compliance

Enlisting the childs complience is an important step. It’s a way of making sure that the child is obedient and quiet. If you can get the child to feel responsible for what happens, the fact that it’s a bad thing means that they will keep their mouth firmly shut about it. After all, they feel it was their fault: ‘Look what you made me do’, ‘You shouldn’t have done that’.

Conspiracy of abusers? Or just child rearing mistakes?

Some contend that there must be a manual, something that people who abuse children must have read in order to skillfully seperate children from the very people who could help them. A list of things to do if you want to abuse a child. I believe the truth is much more sinister than that. Child rearing has long been based on the very same principles. It’s just more of the same, only the goal is different.

Powerlessness in children gives the abuser the advantage

What are some of the things we habitually say to our children that abusers pervert to their own ends?

  • “Shame on you” (for doing something bad)
  • “Respect your elders” (respect in this context generally means obey)
  • “Not another word out of you” (your opinion doesn’t count)
  • “Stop crying” (your emotions are best suppressed)

A child in this world is fully dependent upon adults and is taught many lessons that emphasize its powerlessness.

Empowerment for children

Empowering our children to say no, even to us, may give them a leg up on any would be abuser. Some think that this leads to lawless children, but I think their fears are overstated. Most children thrive on having good, clear boundaries established for them. Feeling the need to test them is a natural impulse. Offering them explanations and the reasoning behind the rules, is a way of helping them understand the world around them better.

Empowerment for toddlers

Empowerment can start at a very early age. Give a toddler a choice of 2 sets clothes to wear and as young as they are, they will pick one and feel empowered by the fact that they have a choice. It allows them to have some influence on what they wear, rather than you having all the power and making all the decisions for them.

10 golden rules for professionals

How can professionals help people heal from child sexual abuse?

Dande-lion heart, symbol for the lionhearted, survivors of child sexual abuse, photograph by Agnes van der Graaf

There are a lot of ways in which health care professionals and therapists can aid people in their healing process. I recently found this anonymous piece about the 10 golden rules for professionals. It was in a different context, but adapted them for professionals dealing with adult survivors of child sexual abuse. I’m sure there’s a few more golden rules we could think of. I found the first one to be very helpful. Quite often professionals invest a lot of time in getting the clients trust. This seems to me like a waste of time. Trust is something that you learn, perhaps, at the end of therapy, not something that is a prerequisite to it. Let me know what you think.

Rule number 1: Realize that your cliënt doesn’t trust you.

Trust has to be earned and once broken it’s very difficult to get back. For people suffering the long term effects of child sexual abuse, trust was broken a long long time ago. That means they don’t trust you, they will test you. Be trustworthy, but don’t expect your cliënt to trust you completely. Ever.

Rule number 2: Let the cliënts tell their story

Let them tell the story in their own way, on their own terms and in their own tempo. You may not have a need to hear it, but the cliënt may have a need to tell. So sit there and listen to it.

Rule number 3: Accept that your cliënts did the best they could

Hindsight is 20/20 they say and I’m sure you could have thought of several better ways of dealing with the abuse and the subsequent situations. Your cliënt can probably think of a million more. At the time however, your cliënt made the best of the situation. They did the best they could to survive and succeeded. Honor that.

Rule number 4: Don’t treat your cliënt like a statistic

Your cliënt is a person, with their own characteristics, their own needs and wants. They have their own history and their own way of dealing with what happened to them.

Rule number 5: Don’t judge your cliënt

Your cliënt is neither good nor bad. Your cliënt is who he or she is, with all the good and bad that is inherent in any human being. They are who they are and that is all they can be at this point.

Rule number 6: Don’t think you know better than your cliënt

All you know is what your cliënt chooses to tell you about themselves and that’s always just a small part of who they are. Remember you’re just the ‘hired help.’

Rule number 7: Don’t think you know what your cliënt should do

You don’t know. Your cliënts are the experts on their own lives. They may be lost and confused, but they still know a lot more than you do about how to survive their trauma.

Rule number 8: Don’t burden your cliënt with your expectations

Your cliënt has enough to contend with, just dealing with their own expectations on a daily basis.

Rule number 9: Listen to your cliënts feelings

Don’t just listen to the words, listen to the feelings as well and accept them all. If you can’t accept your cliënts feelings, how do you think your cliënt is ever going to learn how to deal with them?

Rule number 10: Don’t rescue your cliënt

Your cliënts can rescue themselves. They have done so for a long time. Besides, they were smart enough to come see you weren’t they?

What are your golden rules?

There they are, 10 golden rules for professionals. Let me know what you think: are you missing any of your golden rules? If you’re a professional, how do you measure up with these rules? If you’re a survivor, how does your ‘hired help’ measure up?