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Sexual and Other Abuse
May Alter a Brain Region.

"Many women and men who have been subjected to severe physical or sexual abuse during childhood suffer from long-term disturbances of the psyche. They may be invaded by nightmares and flashbacks - much like survivors of war - or, conversely, may freeze into benumbed calm in situations of extreme stress. Two recent studies found that survivors of child abuse may also have a smaller hippocampus relative to control subjects. If substantiated, the discovery could fill out the profile of an abuse survivor and help define what constitutes abuse."

"Changes in the hippocampus - the part of the brain that deals with short-term memory and possibly the encoding and retrieval of long-term memory - could, researchers suggest, be wrought by hormones flooding the brain during and after a stressful episode."

"Dissociation and PTSD are not sharply separated and often alternate in the same individual. Dissociation, often employed by children who cannot escape from the threat of abuse, is a means of mentally withdrawing from a horrific situation by separating it from conscious awareness. The skill allows the victim to feel detached from the body or self, as if what is happening is not happening to her or him."

"David W. Foy of Pepperdine University notes that within days or weeks of a traumatic experience, therapy seems beneficial in dispelling PTSD. This period, Bremner speculates, could reflect the timescale over which the hippocampus organizes experiences into a person's worldview. Although some functions of the hippocampus are known, its mechanics are poorly understood."

"Psychiatrists contend that if repeatedly invoked in childhood, dissociation prevents memories from being integrated into consciousness and can lead to an altered sense of self. Many normal children play with imaginary companions; abused children can use such creative resources to a pathological extent, in extreme cases falling prey to multiple personality disorder (MPD). Adults may continue to use dissociation as a coping mechanism. Once dissociation or PTSD develops, the majority of psychological symptoms and the hormonal profile are very resistant to treatment."

Reference: Scientific American, N.Y., (273: 4) 10/95, page 14.
Full text on-line.
Web site: Presented by Pandora's Box: The Secrecy of Child Sexual Abuse ~~ Dr. Faulkner -- Sexual Abuse Statistics

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Composition of substantiated child abuse | Disclosures of abuse | Sexual Abuse figures | Impact of Sexual Abuse | Statistics about offenders | Possible long term effects | Survey shows increase in abuse

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