Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) victims experience short and long term negative outcomes that affect their daily functioning. They can also experience trauma. Trauma is any negative event which has long lasting effect on how one thinks, feels about oneself and how one behaves.
Immediate impact of child sexual abuse involves a range of emotions: shock, fear, sadness, anger, confusion, guilt and shame among others. They may experience sudden mood shifts or feel emotionally numb. Other short-term effects involve resorting to regressive behaviours such as a return to thumb-sucking or bed-wetting and engage in aggressive acting out, daydreaming or become suicidal. One of the indicators of sexual abuse is sexual acting out and inappropriate sexual knowledge and interest. Victims may withdraw from school and social activities, show a change in achievement patterns, problems with concentration and exhibit various learning and behavioural problems
Symptoms can extend far into adulthood and largely impact domains of relationships and sexuality. An adult survivor might find it difficult to form and sustain trusting relationships and may experience repeated or additional victimization in relationships along with confusion around sexual identity. A few adult survivors of child sexual abuse may become offenders themselves. Other long- term effects include depression, anxiety, eating disorders poor self-esteem, somatization, sleep disturbances. When symptoms are not properly treated, the impact can result in a lifetime of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety.
David Finkelhor is director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center and professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. He has been conducting research on victims of child sexual abuse since 1976. Finkelhor, whose conceptualization of the traumagenic effects of sexual abuse is the most widely employed, divides impact into four general categories, each having varied psychological and behavioral effects.
Traumatic sexualization – Included in the psychological outcomes of traumatic sexualization are aversive feelings about sex, overvaluing sex, and sexual identity problems.
- Stigmatization – Common psychological manifestations of stigmatization are feelings of guilt and responsibility for the abuse or the consequences of disclosure. These feelings are likely to be reflected in behaviors such as substance abuse, risk-taking acts, self-mutilation, suicidal gestures and acts.
- Betrayal – The most fundamental damage from sexual abuse is its undermining of trust in those people who are supposed to be protectors and nurturers and so victims experience extreme betrayal.
- Powerlessness – The psychological impact of the trauma of powerlessness includes both aperception of vulnerability and victimization. It can manifest as avoidant responses, such as dissociation and running away, sleep problems, elimination problems, and eating problems; andre-victimization.