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The Mental Effects of Sexual Abuse

Updated on June 20, 2011

Child sexual abuse is a horrific crime against children, boys and girls, and describes when a child is used by an adult or adolescent for their sexual means and stimulation. This, not surprisingly, can cause severe problems in the childrens future lives. It can be soul destroying for any individual, as it's such a violation of trust that a lot of people find hard to overcome, and can cause many problems at later stages of life.

Child sexual abuse occurs in many different forms such as asking or pressuring a child to take part in sexual activity (whatever the result), indecent exposure of the gemitals to a child, showing a child pornography, filming or photographing a child for child pornography, any sexual contact or activity with a child, sexual contact with the childs genitals, and viewing the childs genitalia in a sexual manner, even without physical contact. 30% of sexual abuse is carried out by a relative, such as a brother, uncle or father, 60% of abuse is by a "family-friend" or baby-sitter, and 10% is carried out by strangers. Although most sexual abuse is carried out by men, women also carry out these atrocious crimes, against boys and girls.

Studies have shown that children who have suffered sexual abuse are more likely to have psychological symptoms than those that haven't been sexually abused, with 51% to 79% of children who had been abused showing symptoms. The risk of suffering psychological future problems varies on many factors, with more risk showing if the abuse was carried out by a relative, if the abuse involves intercourse or attempted intercourse, the frequency of the abuse, or if threats and force were used. Also if the crime is bought to light, psychological damage can be made worse if the child is in an un-supportive and un-caring environment.

The psychological effects of child sexual abuse can be short or long-term, depending on many factors, most of which are mentioned above. Mental effects include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, very poor self-esteem, dissociative, anxiety, agression, anger, feelings of guilt and psychological distress. Other problems such as sexualised behaviour, schooling and learning, behaviour problems, substance abuse, self-destructive behaviour, animal cruelty, crime in adulthood and suicide are common. You also often find that adults who have suffered abuse will revert back to having tantrums in adulthood, and act like children. This could be a result of having to grow up to quickly, if you are put through sexual abuse at a young age. Often people who have been sexually abused find it hard to make and maintain relationships, whether they're platonic or romantic, because of the lack of trust in people. Studies have also shown that long-term sexual abuse, which is abuse that has been continuous for at least a year, can cause the frontal lobes of the brain to not develop as they should in childhood. The front lobes of the brain are linked to our emotions and how we deal with them, which would explain the anger or depression abuse victims often feel, and their lack of control over them. Other disorders such as somatization, which means to suffer physical ailments as a result of psychological trauma, neurosis and chronic pain are also often reported, suggesting the link between our mind, body and soul, i.e. when the mind and soul suffer, so does the body.

Having been through it myself, and still going through it, or the mental side-effects I should say, I know how difficult it is to understand what is going on in your brain, and what a struggle it can be at times to try to get through each day without coming up against a barrier from your past that somehow stops you from letting go and moving forward.

Things can get better though, and you can learn to re-programme your brain, and begin to think differently. When you begin to think differently then you handle situations better, you have more confidence and faith in yourself, and you see things in a different, more positive light. The way I see it is that it's hard to break habits of a lifetime. Not impossible, but difficult. If you've thought a certain way over a period of time, and have been made to feel insecure, and guilty that it's your fault, then you start to believe it, and it becomes programmed in your brain. And then you can find yourself behaving or thinking a particular way over and over again that you don't want to do, but you just do it out of habit. And because abuse is like a cycle, normally those that abuse, mentally, physically or sexually, have usually been abused themselves. And those that are abused then can often go on to become the abusers, in many different forms. For example, I have mentally abused my boyfriend and ex-boyfriend, as a side-effect of the abuse I suffered, and to gain a feeling of control, or let out the anger I had out inside of me. I hated myself every second that I was doing it, which makes it even harder to accept it and do something about it. It's all about acceptance of yourself, and the situation that you're in, and accepting the fact that you're dealing with it in the only way you know how to at that given time. With this knowledge and acceptance, it is easier then to say "Ok, this is how I am, and this is how I want to be", and change becomes a lot easier. This is how it is for survivors of abuse; or this is at least, how it is for me.

It's also not as simple as waving a magic wand and stop being that person you hate, who has been conditioned this way by their past, I wish it was! It's about changing the way you think, accepting and loving yourself, and making an everyday conscious decision to let go of your past. You have to want to change in order to see it happen. I have never played the victim card, and believe we should take responsibility for our actions, whatever our past. You have to make that choice, if you want to be a victim or a survivor. Once you make that decision, change can begin to happen.

Once you make that decision and fight against the mental effects of the abuse, it will be a struggle and you won't change overnight. You will have black times and you will have encouraging times. But let me assure you that the more you persevere, the less the black times come, and the more you become comfortable in your own skin again. And this is the only way to stop the cycle of abuse. Just because you was sexually abused, it doesn't necessarily mean you will go and sexually abuse children yourself, but it is easy to mentally abuse, or to let the abuse effect the rest of your life through depression or anger, but this is letting the abusers win. To truly overcome abuse you need to work on yourself - love yourslf, accept yourself, and have faith in yourself. Realise what a strong person you are to be where you are right now, and know how much stronger you can be. If you do all of this then recovery will be a lot quicker.

I hope some people may find this hub useful, whether you have been abused yourself, or know someone who has been abused. A little understanding can go a long way!


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      My girlfriend was abused by a family member as a little girl and the shit went on for 7 years

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 

      5 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Delighted to hear that you have worked your way through your childhood trauma.

      Another interesting statistic to throw into the mix is that people who have been sexually abused in childhood are 15-times more likely to attract a schizophrenia diagnosis in adulthood - that size of effect is far more potent than any gene yet identified.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Our government is to blame for this stuff too

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      My ex was sexually abused, which result him to be sexual active and sleeping around I believe. He had low self steem, sex addicted and I think that related to him being abused by his uncle as he always would make a jok about being raped by his uncle. He kept sleeping with diff women while we were togather and when I found out I broke up with him. I was angry but when I rememberd how he was as a person and how great he is and I know deep down its not him who want to be an addict is what he went through. When I once asked him why ?bhe said no one will understand . Most times he had immature behaviour and I also think that link to his past according to ur article. I wish he can get over it he is great person and I will always live him regadless of what happen

    • GJ56 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Hiya, sexual abuse does indeed lead to mental trauma and depression...I was probably at my lowest when I was around 19 years old, 10 years ago...I got the help I needed, and 10 years on life is great, and I'm stronger than ever! It definitely isn't impossible to recover from abuse, and I like to think I'm living proof of that : ) but it certainly isn't a walk in the park either...I have felt at times that every day is a struggle, to try and feel normal and not suffer from the severe insecurities and anger...but if you want to get better you can...every day gets easier and easier : ) Thankyou for your commnt though, I definitely agree that if anyone is struggling with the mental trauma after suffering abuse then they should seek help immediately. I would recommend counselling, with the right counsellor (which you may not always find first time!) as it helped me a lot :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Sexual abuse can lead to mental trauma and lead to depression. This can be pretty hard to recover from but not impossible. Seek help at once.


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