THE EFFECTS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND ABUSETravis Webb, Licensed Master Social Worker
THE PROBLEMThe psychological, emotional and behavioral repercussions of childhood sexual abuse and assault are not only far reaching, but can be tragically persistent for victims. These effects can vary depending on the circumstantial severity of the abuse, the child's developmental stage, and the resources available to the victim. For children, the immediate symptoms typically begin within the first few years of the abuse. However, research indicates that the negative consequences, including experienced symptoms, of childhood sexual abuse are not restricted to childhood. In many cases these outcomes are carried into adulthood. This type of trauma has a rippling effect that can precipitate dysfunction, disorder and recurrence. The overarching short term and long term symptoms for sexual abuse and assault may include (but are not limited to): PHYSICAL - Bleeding, bruising, somatic problems (pelvic, gynecologic, gastrointestinal, urologic), sleep disturbances, eating disorders AFFECT - Fear, depression, anxiety, guilt, loss of self esteem, PTSD, loss of trust, identity confusion, dissociation, regressive behaviors (thumb-sucking or bed-wetting), withdrawal (including non-participation in family, school and social activities) BEHAVIOR - Substance abuse, suicide, acting out (anger, aggression, defiance, antisocial, delinquency, etc), sexual acting out (including inappropriate sexual behavior, knowledge, and interest), self-abusive behavior, performance problems at school, fear/anxiety regarding relations to the opposite sex and victimization of others.
Children up to age 3 may exhibit: • Fear or excessive crying • Vomiting • Feeding problems • Bowel problems • Sleep disturbances • Failure to thrive Ages 2 to 9: • Fear of particular people, places or activities • Regression to earlier behaviors such as bed wetting or stranger anxiety • Victimization of others • Excessive masturbation • Feelings of shame or guilt • Nightmares or sleep disturbances • Withdrawal from family or friends • Fear of attack recurring • Eating disturbances Ages 10 to 17: • Depression • Nightmares or sleep disturbances • Poor school performance • Promiscuity • Substance abuse • Aggression • Running away from home • Fear of attack recurring • Eating disturbances • Early pregnancy or marriage • Suicidal gestures • Anger about being forced into situation beyond one’s control • Pseudo-mature behavior