Adults who were sexually abused as children may suffer long-term problems. They may or may not know why they experience the same difficulties over and over again.*
- Adult who were abused as children may display symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder including flashbacks, bad dreams, intense distress or physical reactions to reminders of the event, avoidance, memory loss, social and emotional detachment, hopelessness, numbing, insomnia, anger, difficulty concentrating, self-blame, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of mistrust.
- They may have a distorted sense of self and the world around them that results in lack of trust, self-blame, and low self esteem. They may be unable to trust their own feelings, perceptions and judgments.
- Adult survivors are much more likely than non-survivors to develop depression. They often feel anxious or intense anger and irritability due to self-blame, humiliation, lack of protection, or feeling unprotected. They fear people will not believe them, they may fear the abuser will retaliate, or they fear people will look at them differently. Over time this fear may result in debilitating panic attacks or paranoia.
- If emotional distress is not expressed in a healthy way, an adult survivor may develop unhealthy strategies to cope with the memories and feelings. These may take the form of substance abuse, self-mutilation, dissociation, and eating disorders. Suicide attempts are much higher in adult survivors than in the rest of the population.
- Child sexual abuse if very damaging because the abuse occurs when the children are developing their identity. Early childhood trauma can lead to difficulty relating to and understanding others and to an inability to regulate reactions to stressful events. Because survivors have trouble identifying their own needs and emotions, they may be unable to set boundaries to protect themselves and are often re-victimized or exploited and often identify themselves as victims.
- Survivors of child sexual assault often experience relationship problems such as problems in sexual functioning, attachment issues, marital conflict and divorce, and maternal functioning. They often have difficulty showing love and trust as adults and experience social isolation.
- The effects of child sexual abuse on later sexuality are thought to contribute to the high incidence of sexual abuse found among adolescent and adult prostitutes. These individuals often feel a lack of ownership regarding their own bodies.
*This information is not meant to be a substitute for a consultation with a counselor or psychotherapist.