Effects of sexual abuse are divided into short-term and long-term effects. In this lesson short term are those effects that can occur in the first year of the abuse. This time line is randomly picked and not meant to be used for evaluation purposes. Do not review this list and compare it to people’s behaviors and determine that they have been sexually abused. This list is also not meant to determine if someone has been affected by sexual abuse, therefore it is not advised to review the list and compare it to someone you know has been abused. Absence of the following does not mean that the person was not affected by the sexual abuse. This is only meant as a guideline to assist in understanding what victims may go through.
The following list are some effects that may occur if intervention is not provided to a victim of sexual abuse. Intervention can be a parent, a spiritual leader or a therapist. It is important that the victim understand that the offense was not their fault and they did nothing wrong. The offender made a choice to hurt them and use their trust against them. How a victim was effected by abuse is compounded by the victim’s age, how long they were abused, who abused them, the type of abuse, and the community’s reaction when the abuse was discovered. For example, a six year old female who was abused by her brother for a year may have different effects then a six year old female who was touched once by a play mate. When the abuse was discovered the family’s reaction will either hurt or help in the victim’s recovery. A victim that is blamed for the abuse may be more traumatized then a victim, who was supported, received help and was told it was not her fault.
Most victims do not hate their abuser, but they do not like what was done to them. The victims that I have worked with wanted their abuser to get help. The victims that hated their abusers felt that way because the abuser was not held accountable or denied that they hurt the victim. Once the abuse was discovered the family’s reaction is important to helping the victim recover. The victim must relearn boundaries and learn to feel safe in the world. Just as we teach our children boundaries by limit setting, this must continue when a person is recovering from abuse. It is important that the abuser is held accountable for their behavior and in daily life a victim needs to be held accountable for their grades, and other behaviors. To let them get away with things because they were victimized does not help in their recovery, it only confuses them.
The following lists are broken into thinking, feeling and actions. This triad will be repeated throughout the lessons.
- Isolates from others
- Has tantrums
- Violates others boundaries
- Withdraws from people and activities
These behaviors are a change in the person’s normal behaviors. If someone is naturally withdrawn that does not mean that they were abused. When evaluating for possible trauma one looks for changes in behaviors. Also developmental age will need to be considered. It is common for young children to have tantrums as they are getting frustrated with learning the limits.
- Panic attacks
These feelings are a change in the person’s normal feelings. If someone is naturally fearful that does not mean that they were abused. When evaluating for possible trauma one looks for changes in feelings. Also a person’s mental abilities will need to be considered. If someone has difficulty expressing their feelings and therefore often is anger, this is a different problem.
- Not sure what is right and wrong
- Not sure of boundaries
- Wondering what they did?
- Why them?
Again, one looks for a change in thinking. You can determine what someone is thinking by asking them or listening to their statements. A victim may ask what they did wrong or what they did to deserve what happened to them.
This is only listed on short term as it is presumed that the person will heal from the physical harm of abuse, although scarring may occur.
- Aggressive behaviors
- Avoidance of sexual intimacy
- Attempted suicide
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- School problems
- Running away
- Lowered self-esteem
- Feels different from others
- Confusion about sexual norms
- Confusion about sexual identity
- Confusion about sex with caring
- Aversion to sexual intimacy
- Lack of trust
- Feels powerless
- Believes the world is not a safe place
- Need to control
Long term effects are after a year of being abused and without intervention. As you notice the list is longer as the victim has more time to believe that they are to blame, they are becoming confused by the continued boundary violations. A victim may engage in sex (promiscuity or prostitution) as they may believe that they have power over who they chose to have sex with. A person may become fearful of being seen in a sexual manner and therefore they put on weight, wear loose fitting clothes, and do not take care of their hair.
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