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Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Updated: Jul 29



Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 9 minutes, that victim is a child. Child sexual abuse is when an adult perpetrator harms a minor victim who is under the age of 18. Child sexual abuse is used for stimulating the perpetrator sexually, as the abuse can happen once, a few times, or over many years. At no point can a child consent to any form of sexual activity and sexual advances.


Those who have experienced sexual abuse as a child, may encounter a range of short- and long-term effects that may impact the body, the mind, and the soul. Survivors of child sexual abuse may have some of the following:

Short-term/Long-term effects:

  • Emotional Problems: Many abused children may exhibit emotions that signal stress including anger, shame, guilt, fear, anxiety, confusion, and depression. When a child reaches adulthood, they may experience panic attacks, depression, PTSD, anxiety, and fear.

  • Self-Perception: Children who have experienced abuse may have difficulty believing that they are deserving of support and worthy of love when they are in a hurtful, betraying situation. They may see their caregivers as untrustworthy and unsafe which affects the early development of a child. This may also be carried in adulthood where adults may feel dirty, unlovable, or worthless. They may still feel alone in the world and feel that it is their fault as an adult.

  • Physical Problems: Some survivors of child sexual abuse may experience physical effects in the body due to stress. This includes bedwetting, urinary tract infections, stomachaches, headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and vomiting. For adults, the physical body keeps an imprint of the trauma once endured. This may create a general poorer health, gastrointestinal problems, irregular heartbeats and shortness of breath.

  • Sexual Effects: Child sexual abuse can result in an awareness of sexual behaviors that are age inappropriate. Children may be showing excessive sexual behaviors not typical for children whereas others may be the complete opposite in avoiding close contact and touch. As abused children get older into adulthood, there may be difficulties in sexual functioning. Many survivors may feel fear, disgust, and shame when experiencing sexual contact and intimacy may be frightening and feel like a boundary intrusion. I

  • nterpersonal Relationships: Those who have experienced child sexual abuse may have damaged trust in caregivers and adults. The breaking of trust early in a child’s developmental stages can create difficulties in feeling secure in their relationships moving forwards in life.

  • Other Effects: When a child is sexually abused, they may experience numbing, avoidance, dissociation, denial, minimizing, and forgetting which ultimately create problems in adulthood. This can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, addictions, eating disorders, intimacy issues, and trouble maintaining interpersonal relationships as survivors grow older.

It is important to acknowledge the short-term and long-term effects of child sexual abuse.

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