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The devastating long term impact of Child Sexual Abuse

08 Apr 2015

According to a survey by Ministry of Women & Child Development (2007) the prevalence of all forms of child abuse is extremely high (physical abuse (66%), sexual abuse (50%) and emotional abuse (50%). The impact of child sexual abuse can be discussed in terms of physical, psychological, behavioral and interpersonal consequences. These are discussed in detail below.

Impact on Physical Health

The evidence suggests that health problems for survivors of child sexual abuse stem from  inter-relationships between behavioral, emotional, social, and cognitive factors (Kendall-Tackett, 2002). Child abuse can have multitude of long-term effects on physical health.

1.Impaired Brain Development

Child sexual abuse can cause failure of  appropriate growith in  important regions of the brain, resulting in impairment, leading to long-term consequences for cognitive, language, and academic abilities. (Tarullo, 2012).

2.Poor physical health

Research has found that survivors of child sexual abuse get sick more often (Felitti, 1991); have surgery more often (Marshall, & Ness, 2000); and are at an increased risk of having chronic pain syndromes (Kendall-Tackett, 2002). Associations have also been found between child sexual abuse and ischemic heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia (Runyan et al., 2002).

Impact on Psychological wellbeing

Research has established a strong, albeit complex relationship between child sexual abuse and adverse mental health consequences for many victims (Walsh, Fortier, & DiLillo, 2010).

A link has been found between child sexual abuse and the following:

1. Difficulties during Infancy

Abuse or trauma during infancy can adversely affect the attachment with their parents. In a study, half of infants in foster care who have experienced maltreatment exhibit cognitive delay and have lower IQ scores, language difficulties, and neonatal challenges compared to children who have not been abused or neglected (2011).

2. Poor mental and emotional health

Negative mental health effects have been consistently associated  with child sexual abuse including; post-traumatic symptoms, depression, substance abuse, helplessness, negative attributions, aggressive behaviors and conduct problems; eating disorders and anxiety (Nelson et al., 2002).

Child sexual abuse has also been linked to psychotic disorders including schizophrenia and delusional disorder (Bendall et al., 2011) as well as personality disorders (Cutajar, 2010b).

Child sexual abuse involving penetration has been identified as a risk factor for developing psychotic and schizophrenic syndromes (Cutajar et al., 2010a).

A number of studies indicated that sexual victimization, both in childhood and beyond, is a significant risk factor for suicide attempts and for (accidental) fatal overdoses, among both men and women.

Female sexual abuse victims had 40 times higher risk of suicide, 88 times higher for fatal overdose (Cutajar et al., 2010b).

3. Cognitive Difficulties

In a study, more than 10 % of school-aged children and youth showed some risk of cognitive problems or low academic achievement, 43 % had emotional or behavioral problems, and 13 %  had both (ACF/OPRE, 2011).

Behavioral Issues/Consequences

Behavioral problems appear in a child who has faced abuse. Child abuse appears to make the following:

1. Risky behavior and adjustment difficulties

Studies suggest that abused children are more likely to engage in sexual risk-taking as they reach adolescence, thereby increasing their chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. In adolescence, child sexual abuse has been associated with early onset consensual sexual activity, unprotected sexual intercourse, multiple sexual partners and teenage pregnancy (Senn, Carey, & Vanable, 2008). In adulthood, similar sexual risk behaviors have been reported for survivors of child sexual abuse (Arriola et al., 2005).

2.Juvenile delinquency and adult criminality

Children who have experienced abuse are nine times more likely to become involved in criminal activities (Gold, Wolan Sullivan, & Lewis, 2011).

3.Alcohol and other drug abuse

Research has shown an increased likelihood of smoking cigarettes, alcohol abuse, or intake of illicit drugs during their lifetime in children who have experienced sexual abused. In a study, male children with a score of 6 or more (having six or more adverse childhood experiences) were found to have an increased likelihood of more than 4,000 percent to use intravenous drugs later in life (Felitti & Anda, 2009). Victims of childhood sexual abuse have been reported to be at greater risk of abusing alcohol and drugs (Min, Farkas, Minnes, & Singer, 2007), and survivors of child sexual abuse are at a heightened risk of developing an alcohol disorder and with an earlier age of onset (Zlotnik et al., 2006).

 

Interpersonal Outcomes

1.Sexuality and sexual adjustment

A history of child sexual abuse has been found to be associated with problems with sexual adjustment in adult life (Herman 1981; Finkelhor 1979). Finkelhor et al. (1989) found that women who reported child sexual abuse involving intercourse were significantly less likely to find their adult sexual relationships very satisfactory.

Those with histories of child sexual abuse reported twice regarding current sexual problems (28 per cent compared with 47 per cent) and for women whose abuse involved penetration, nearly 70 per cent complained of current sexual problems. There is also evidence that women who report child sexual abuse are at greater risk during adolescence of sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, multiple sexual partnerships, and sexual re-victimization (Fergusson et al. 1997).

2.Parenting Issues

Research by Sperlich & Seng in 2008 including women, showed that pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood can trigger difficulties, emotional distress and lack of confidence and self-esteem. Research concerning fathering after childhood sexual abuse, indicated significant concerns among such fathers in relation to them being over-protective, nervous about physical contact with their children, and being fearful of becoming abusers themselves (Price- Robertson, 2012a).

3.Re-victimization

Research suggests that victims of child sexual abuse are at an increased risk of re-victimization. More specifically, women who have a history of child sexual abuse are at least twice as likely to experience adult sexual victimization (Classen, Palesh, & Aggarwal, 2005). The severity of child sexual abuse may also be associated with the risk of re-victimization, with those who have been subjected to more intrusive types of child sexual abuse, to multiple experiences and of longer duration at an increased risk of sexual victimization.

In the end it can be concluded that, child sexual abuse acts in concert with other developmental experiences to leave the growing child with areas of vulnerability. This is a dynamic process at every level, and one in which there are few irremediable absolutes. Abuse is not destiny. It is damaging, and that damage, if not always reparable, is open to amelioration and limitation.

Thus, the ideal response to child sexual abuse would be primary prevention strategies aimed at eliminating, or at least reducing, the sexual abuse of children.

Providing the survivors of childhood sexual abuse a safe and supportive environment in which they being able to disclose their experiences, gaining access to effective services and the support they need to deal with those experiences and all its effects appears to be important in buffering the impact. 

 

If you are a parent who is concerned about your child's well-being, or you are a sexual abuse survivor battling some of the issues mentioned here,our online psychology & psychiatry services can help you.

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