– – – – – – – – Survivors Network Minnesota – – – – – – – –

CAUSAL EFFECTS of Sexual Abuse

Causal Effects on Adults: Childhood Sexual Abuse

Definition of CAUSAL: of, relating to, or constituting a cause <the causal agent of a disease or an injury

       A history of childhood sexual abuse leads to a lower health-related quality of life and a greater number of health problems, psychiatric symptoms and diagnoses. Research shows that survivors of childhood sexual abuse have “more medical problems, higher medical use, more physical symptoms, lower health status, and more medical procedures” High levels of anxiety and depression in survivors of childhood sexual abuse can lead to self-destructive behaviors, such as alcohol and drug abuse. Because of the association between sexual behavior and pain and violation, survivors of childhood sexual abuse often develop problems with intimate relationships in general.

          In general, childhood sexual abuse is associated with a greater risk of: Disturbances in sexual interest; Difficulties during sexual contact; Dysfunctions of desire, arousal or orgasm; Seductive behaviors, compulsive activity and prostitution; Precocious sexual behavior; Confusion of sexuality and nurturing behavior; Unintended pregnancy; Eating disorders; Excessive weight gain; Depression; Anxiety; Self-destructive behavior; Alcoholism; Drug abuse; Panic attacks; Insomnia and sleep problems; Relationship problems; Re-victimization; Suicide; Self-mutilation; Increased risk for sexually transmitted disease; Identity disturbances; and Involvement in physically abusive relationships as adults.

 Causal Effects on Children: Sexual Abuse

          The strongest indicators that a child has been sexually abused are inappropriate knowledge about sex, inappropriate sexual interest, and sexual acting out. The effects of abuse result from the abuse itself, from the family’s response to the situation, and from the stigmatization that accompanies abuse. The symptoms can include post-traumatic symptoms, precocious sexualization, depression, anxiety, guilt, fear, sexual dysfunction, dissociate symptoms, eating disorders, substance abuse, prostitution, regressive behaviors such as a return to thumb-sucking or bed-wetting, runaway behavior, academic and behavior problems.

         Factors that influence the outcomes in cases of childhood sexual abuse include the age of the victim, the frequency and extent of the abuse, the relationship of the victim to the abuser, the use of force, the presence of severe injury, and the number of different perpetrators. The response of the victim’s family has a tremendous effect on the outcome. Supportive responses from the victims family and friends can go far to lessen the impact of the abuse while negative responses (seen in cases of incest where one parent tries to protect the other parent) will compound the damage done.

          Studies find that sexually abused children have lowered intellectual and cognitive functioning skills that increases the risk of lower academic achievement and problematic school performance. The abused children in these studies received lower grades and test scores than non-abused children.

 Symptoms in Adult Survivors

Among the effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse are the following. Sometimes these symptoms do not appear for decades.


       These may be direct images, almost recollections, of the abuse or they may be symbolic. While non-abused people also suffer occasional nightmares, survivors experience repetitious, terrifying dreams in which they feel helpless and trapped.


       Sickening sensory images suddenly occur which vividly bring back the sights, sounds, physical and emotional feelings of the abuse.


       With good cause, survivors are usually distrustful of the opposite sex, authority figures — and themselves.

Sexual hang-ups

       Inhibitions and fears about sexual activity range from mild to severely disturbed.

Physical ailments

       The emotional, psychological and physical stress of abuse often takes its toll in physical illness as the body remembers being betrayed.


        Feelings of worthlessness, apathy, self-loathing, can drown a survivor.


          A mixture of self-blame for the activity, feeling bad about hating the abuser, horror at partial enjoyment, and possibly, absorption of some of the abuser’s guilt feelings.


       Childhood abuse teaches the victim that the world is an untrustworthy place.  Fear can infiltrate every aspect of the survivor’s life.


          Unfortunately often directed inward, anger can be a liberating emotion when the survivor directs it at the appropriate targets.


       Uncertainty about what the abuse means (how can pain be love? Why is a caretaker betraying me? Or in cases of clergy sexual abuse, why has God forsaken me?) overwhelms the child — and festers in the adult.


          To avoid the pain and guilt of blaming the perpetrator (especially in cases of incest) the victim may physically hurt herself or himself. Self-mutilation ranges from tattoos and nipple-rings to sexual violence and enemas.

Relationship difficulties

          Clearly a distrustful, confused, angry survivor is likely to have difficulties relating with other people.


          Childhood sexual abuse is frequently accompanied with verbal abuse. Accusations of being stupid make a deep impression on a helpless, victimized child. This feeling of powerlessness persists into adulthood.


          Frequently the various parts of the survivor, including the derogatory messages about being bad, stupid, unwanted, unlovable, etc., are “heard” as thoughts or even sounds.


        Somewhat like Flashbacks but which the survivor “sees” in front of themselves, like blood on the bathroom floor. Hallucinations may also be “negative”, i.e., not seeing something, like car keys, which are actually there.

Suicidal thoughts

          Self-blame to the extreme. When the pain becomes too much to bear, suicide may seem to be the ultimate solution.


          Slow suicide. Also an attempt to dampen down the pain. May range from the legal; alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, prescription drugs, to the illegal; prostitution, street drugs.


          A feeling of having been stripped of dignity and effectiveness.


          A feeling of being held down, of being directed by others.


          Generally noticing what’s wrong, rather than what’s right. Expecting the worst.



          Victims of any kind of trauma are likely to find themselves re-victimized. Sometimes the new victimization happens in similar circumstances, sometimes in situations that seem to bear no resemblance to the original incident.

          Why does this happen? Because we all seek — mostly subconsciously — to repeat what we’ve already experienced. So a person betrayed as a child will often feel drawn to a person who ends up betraying them. The symptoms of shame, guilt and low self-esteem make it easy for a victim to accept the familiar and hard to accept respect and love from a mentally-healthy person.


          A survivor’s memories of abuse are often challenged or denied by other family members, health professionals and the public at large. The recovery of repressed memories is a major controversy.

          Repressed memories can and do surface years after the abuse. They can also be manufactured wittingly or unwittingly by therapists. In which case they are not really memories, but beliefs.

          All memory is malleable. Our memories are not like videos. They are not uncontaminated records of exactly what happened. Memories are influenced by our thoughts, desires, cultures, by the movies we’ve seen and the conversations we’ve had. To rise victorious over Childhood Sexual Abuse, it is not necessary, nor is it possible, to know exactly what happened. That it did happen is horror enough.


          Closely connected to the fallibility of memory is denial. We deny we’ve been abused. Family members deny it. Society in general prefers to deny it. And for some people this is how they survive and go on with their lives. For others, cracking the nut of denial is the major step forward in their healing.


          Should the perpetrator be confronted? There is no simple yes or no to this question. Confrontation can range from letter writing to in-person to court proceedings. It can be a plain “I know what you did” or an expensive lawsuit. The more “outsiders” are involved, the more you need corroborative evidence to back up your accusations.


The Key

          Identity is “The Key“: whether you identify as a victim, a survivor, a victor or a champion.

Responsibility for self

          To overcome the effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse requires a decision to take responsibility for oneself. And then to take appropriate actions about taking care of yourself. Some of the specifics towards that are: Groups, therapy, self-help, support, 12-step, religious…Thought-stopping…Affirmations…Gratitude  Diary… Love… Individual psychotherapy… hypnotherapy… emotional freedom techniques… Forgiveness.

Forgiveness or letting go of resentment

          Is touted as the ultimate step toward freedom from the effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Certainly to become whole the victor needs to let go of the shame, anger, guilt and hatred.

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