Long-Term Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse

The after-effects of childhood sexual abuse can be short-term in nature or can be present long-term but not all children abused in childhood will have long term problems.1 Just as the experiences of abuse vary greatly from person to person, so do the outcomes. There is no standard set of long-term effects that every childhood sexual abuse survivor will experience, and not every abuse survivor will experience longer-term effects. However, there are many common long-term issues that childhood sexual abuse (CSA) survivors may experience.1-3

    Emotional distress

    Common emotions reported by CSA survivors include guilt, shame, blame, and embarrassment. Issues with moodiness, impulse control problems, unresponsiveness, substance abuse, and eating disorders are all common issues reported by survivors. Although CSA is never the survivor’s fault, it’s not uncommon for survivors to feel as though some of the blame is on them, or as if they could have prevented the abuse. These emotions are powerful and can impact an individual’s overall wellbeing for a very long time.

    Self-perception issues

    Survivors of CSA often struggle with maintaining positive self-esteem and high self-worth. An individual’s self-perception can be greatly altered after a history of abuse with survivors reporting a sense they don’t have control in their lives. Survivors report a belief that they are unworthy of love and have difficulties building trusting relationships.

    Interpersonal relationship difficulties

    Individuals with a history of CSA may have difficulty forming and maintaining close interpersonal relationships. This is also a common difficulty for intimate relationships.

    Sexual effects

    After CSA, an individual may struggle with their future sexual health. Survivors may experience little to no desire to engage in sexual activities or experience a decrease in the ability to achieve and maintain orgasms. Women survivors may sometimes experience sexual-related, physical health complications that may impair their ability to have a healthy sex life, including pain during intercourse, inappropriate muscle tightening within the vagina, inflammation, and general pelvic pain.

    Physical health issues

    In addition to some of the physical sexual-related effects that can happen to an individual, survivors may also experience other physical health effects in response to trauma. Some conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, asthma, migraines, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome are considered to be diseases of trauma and can greatly affect both men and women survivors of CSA.4 In addition, survivors of CSA are also more likely to be obese, abuse drugs and alcohol, smoke, and be physically inactive, which can lead to further health complications.5

    Mental illness

    Coping with the abuse itself, along with the emotional, self-perception, relationship, sexual, and physical health issues, can all lead to mental distress for a CSA survivor. Depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder are all common mental illnesses experienced by survivors.

    As mentioned earlier, it is important to remember that every individual’s journey is unique. Not every survivor of CSA will experience all or any of these long-term effects. However, if you or a loved one are experiencing any of these quality of life-impairing issues, it may be a good idea to seek potential treatment or management options, such as group therapy, counseling, medication, and more.



    References

    1. Putnam, F. W. (2003). Ten-year research update review: Child sexual abuse. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry42(3), 269-278.
    2. Dube SR, Anda RF, et al. Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Jun 2005; 28(5), 430-8.
    3. Collin-Vézina, D., De La Sablonnière-Griffin, M., Palmer, A. M., & Milne, L. (2015). A preliminary mapping of individual, relational, and social factors that impede disclosure of childhood sexual abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 43, 123-134.

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