Long-term Effects Of Sexual Abuse
Survivors of child sexual abuse may experience long-lasting physical or psychological consequences of being sexually abused. Survivors of child sexual abuse are also more likely to experience revictimization in their lifetimes.
Long-term Physical Effects Of Sexual Abuse
- Unwanted or unplanned pregnancy
- Physical injuries
- Chronic health conditions (e.g., obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes)
Long-term Psychological Effects Of Sexual Abuse
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Low self-esteem or self-image
- Cognitive impairment
- Eating disorders
- Increased risk of substance abuse
- Increased risk of unsafe sexual behaviors
- Increased risk of self-harm
- Increased risk of suicide
- Relationship problems (including intimacy issues in future relationships)
An Increased Likelihood Of Revictimization
Some studies estimate survivors of child sexual abuse are 2 to 13.7 times more at risk of sexual victimization in adulthood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), victims of child sexual abuse have twice the risk of non-sexual intimate partner violence as those who have not been abused.
There are a couple of reasons why survivors of child sexual abuse may fall prey to future victimization:
- Child sexual abuse may affect a survivor’s development. This may decrease his or her sense of danger.
- Child sexual abuse may falsely lead a survivor to believe that coercion or domineering sexual behaviors or advances are normal.
Long-term Sexual Abuse Effects On Female Victims
Much of the research done on the effects of child sexual abuse comes from research focused on female victims. This is due to the fact that girls are more likely to be sexually abused in their lifetimes than boys.
Studies have shown that apart from experiencing the long-term general side effects of abuse listed above, female victims may be changed biologically and psychologically.
One study found female victims are more likely to experience:
- Abnormal physical developments
- Mental health issues such as PTSD and depression
- Physical and sexual revictimization
- Teen pregnancy
According to the study, female victims are also more likely to engage in “…self-mutilation, risky sexual activity, abuse drugs and alcohol, experience more lifetime traumas, fail to complete high school…[and] as parents, they [may] place their children at increased risk for abuse and neglect…”
Long-term Effects Of Sexual Abuse In Male Victims
Survivors often experience similar long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse, regardless of gender. However, boys or men who were victims of sexual violence may experience additional consequences based on society’s stereotypes around masculinity.
Although girls are more likely to be sexually abused, 1 in 13 boys experience sexual abuse before reaching 18 years of age.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), male victims of child sexual abuse may feel additional shame, guilt or self-doubt. They may blame themselves for being “too weak” to stop the abuse or attack.
Additionally, if a male victim gets an erection or ejaculates during the abuse, it may cause the victim further confusion around the experience. Victims may confuse their bodies’ physiological reactions with consent.
To be clear, if a victim of child sexual abuse experiences arousal or physical pleasure during the abuse, that does not mean the victim is consenting. It is still an act of abuse against a child.
Common Effects Of Abuse Experienced By Male Victims
- Experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety or depression
- Questioning sexual orientation
- Fearing a shortened future
- Feeling a loss of masculinity
- Unable to relax
- Avoiding recollection of the abuse or assault
- Trouble sleeping
- Withdrawing from relationships
- Fearing judgment or disbelief if someone finds out about the abuse
On the path of healing, it is important that male victims recognize they are not alone. According to the organization 1in6, at least 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetime.
Effects Of Child Sexual Abuse On Adult Survivors
Many adult survivors may still be dealing with the lasting impact of childhood sexual abuse. In some cases, it can take years for survivors to even understand that they were sexually abused. Other victims may suppress or deny their experiences only to face their memories years later.
Whatever the case may be, it is perfectly normal for an adult survivor to still be recovering from abuse in childhood. There is no time limit for recovery or healing from a trauma such as child sexual abuse.
Many adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse find emotional support to be an effective way to heal. For some, this may include therapy and counseling. Many adult survivors will also turn to support groups such as those led by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) to find comfort from other survivors of abuse.
Adult Survivors Seek Closure Through Legal Justice
In recent years, more adult survivors have sought healing through the legal system. Many states have expanded the statute of limitations around child sexual abuse crimes.
A statute of limitations (SOL) is a legal deadline. SOLs vary based on the jurisdiction, the crime and the intended legal action (i.e. criminal charges versus a civil claim).
Several states have opened legal “look back” windows. During these windows of time, all expired civil cases of child sexual abuse are revived. Victims can file a case no matter when the abuse took place. Additionally, some states have enacted discovery rules for survivors who discovered abuse-related injuries years after the incident.
These legislative actions have allowed many adult survivors who were abused decades ago to file a claim. Many adult survivors have used their expanded rights to file civil lawsuits against abusers and institutions that hid or perpetuated the abuse.
States With Recently Expanded Rights For Child Sexual Abuse Survivors
States That Recently Expanded Statutes of Limitations
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
States With Temporary Open “Look Back” Windows
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, March 20). Preventing Child Sexual Abuse [PDF].
ChildUSA. (N.D.) 2021 SOL Tracker. Retrieved April 9, 2021.
Engel, B. (2019, March 6). Why Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse Don’t Disclose. Psychology Today.
Hall, M., & Hall, J. (2011). The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse: Counseling implications [PDF]. American Counseling Association.
National Sexual Violence Resource Center. (2012). Sexual Revictimization [PDF].
RAINN. (N.D.) Sexual Assault of Men and Boys. Retrieved April 9, 2021.
RAINN. (N.D.) State Law Database. Retrieved April 9, 2021.
Trickett, P.K., Noll, J.G., Putnam, F.W. (2011, May). The impact of sexual abuse on female development: Lessons from a multigenerational, longitudinal research study. Dev Psychopathol, 23(3), 453–476.
1in6. (2017, November 15). Home. Retrieved April 9, 2021.
Meneo Group managing partner: Ron Meneo
Ron Meneo is the managing partner of The Meneo Law Group. With more than 40 years of experience, he represents clients across the country on a variety of complex legal matters, including personal injury due to institutional sexual abuse, unsafe pharmaceutical drugs and other practice areas. He is a recipient of Martindale-Hubbell’s prestigious AV® Preeminent Rating. He has also served as an editor and contributor for several legal journals.