The adolescent years are a challenging time of rapid
physical, emotional, and intellectual growth for all
young people. Teens who have experienced sexual abuse
or assault face additional challenges that can divert them
from mastering the important developmental tasks of this
stage. For example, a teen who is highly anxious and sleeps poorly in the aftermath of an abuse
may have difficulty concentrating in school or participating in activities. Many teen survivors
feel terribly isolated. Because of the shame and stigma surrounding sexual victimization, they
may feel as though they are the only ones who have gone through this trauma, or that their
peers lead such different lives that they can’t relate to each other. Since most teens long to
have friends and to feel accepted by peers, this isolation can be extremely painful.
Support groups can have a powerful healing and restorative effect by providing a safe space
where a teen survivor feels accepted, heard, and understood. Since the vast majority of survivors
have been abused by someone they know, they may have difficulty knowing whom to trust.
However, once trust is established, it is particularly sweet and nourishing for those who have
been betrayed. Psychoeducational support groups rebuild self-esteem by giving survivors a
place of safety in which they can feel successful. As they participate in activities and are offered
the chance to help others as well as receiving help themselves, teen survivors can begin to gain
strength and self-worth.
The shame and distress that many teen survivors experience can lead to disrupted relationships
(with friends, parents, and partners), distortions of body image, mood disorders, substance
abuse, and other concerns that carry their own severe consequences. In the healing atmosphere
of a support group, teen survivors can learn that the abuse was not their fault, that they can be
whole and happy, and that they can have hope for the future.