Women Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse Reluctant to Use Health Care System

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The numbers are staggeringly high: one of every three female children and one of every five male children in Canada will be sexually abused before adulthood, according to statistics from the 1994 National Clearinghouse on Family Violence. Researchers have long known that childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has profound long-term consequences that impact emotional, psychological and physical health well into the adult years. Victims of CSA report increased levels of interpersonal problems, self-abuse, chronic pain, gastrointestinal and respiratory disorders, and other chronic ailments.

More recently, studies have indicated that those who have experienced CSA are also reluctant to visit their health care practitioners and avoid health care until it is absolutely essential. Researchers believe that there may be similarities between CSA and the setting for most medical examinations, such as being left alone in a closed room with an individual who has great power, feeling lack of control over the situation, anxiety from physical touch or from physical examinations that may be painful, and the requirement to be undressed or partially dressed.

A helpful series of guides from the Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence, urge health care providers to be aware of the anxiety that an examination may cause many individuals, and recommend changes to both the environment in which the examination takes place (such as providing music and artwork to ensure a feeling of comfort and safety) and reforming the procedures for conducting the examination (such as giving the patient options and a sense of control, and providing pamphlets that explain procedures).

For more information see: Getting Through Medical Examinations: A Resource for Women Survivors of Abuse and Their Health Care Providers at: www.cwhn.ca/resources/csa/ab_index.html