“If Only I Could Have Stopped It”: Reflections of Adult Child Sexual Abuse Survivors on Their Responses During the Abuse

Carmit Katz*, Racheli Nicolet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Child sexual abuse (CSA) has received much research attention in recent years, leading to the considerable development of services provided for children worldwide. The literature in the field of trauma studies recognizes that responses to trauma are of central importance and mainly discusses the fight-flight-freeze model of automatic responses to traumatic events. For a variety of reasons, research on this specific subject in the field of CSA is sparse. The current study was designed to spotlight the way adults perceive their responses during incidents of CSA. Semistructured interviews were carried out with 20 survivors who described their responses. The results pointed to the irrelevance of “fight or flight” responses in the context of CSA and emphasized compliance, avoidance, and simply surviving the abuse. In addition, the survivors shared the thoughts they had had during the abusive incidents. Specifically, while they understood that what was being done to them was wrong, they also realized that there was little they could do other than try to survive. The survivors’ reflections on how their responses to CSA affected their negative self-attributions and on the way they contend with difficult incidents in adulthood suggest the central role played by CSA responses. The findings point to the multifaceted nature of responses to CSA and to the urgent need to further examine them by exploring other relevant contexts and perceptions to develop a theoretical model that will address responses to child abuse and inform both prevention and intervention efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)NP2076-NP2100
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • child sexual abuse
  • fight-flight-freeze
  • response
  • trauma


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