First of all, it’s important to realize what exactly CSA is. Childhood sexual abuse is a complex life experience — not a diagnosis or a disorder — and covers a range of sexual activities. These activities include intercourse/attempted intercourse, oral-genital contact, fondling of genitalia directly and/or through clothing, exhibitionism and/or exposing children to sexual activity and/or pornography, or prostituting the child either for pornography or for intercourse. This also means that, because of the diversity of ways that CSA may manifest itself, there will be an unspecified range of outcomes, especially when taking into account factors such as the age and gender of the child; age and gender of the perpetrator; the relationship between the two; and finally, the number, frequency, and duration of the abuse. All of these variables may affect the experience of the child, and therefore the severity and kinds of repercussions the survivor may face later in life.
As with most instances of trauma, there will be some repercussions that are more common than others. Those that are most commonly faced by survivors tend to be related to their perception of themselves and the world around them, such as having increased low self-esteem and becoming more self-destructive and socially isolated. Many also have an increased chance of developing drug dependencies, as well as depression, anxiety, and panic disorders. Some survivors even experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) along with these other symptoms.
However, some of the more unrecognized repercussions of CSA occur with survivors whose abuse takes place during critical periods of social development and puberty. Because the trauma happens during the time when one matures both mentally and physically, the survivor may later experience poor sexual adjustment and dysfunction, increased risky behavior, and an increased risk of victimization because of their lack of exposure to safe, healthy relationships. These safe and healthy relationships promote the growth of positive connections and safe exposure to sexuality, but in the cases of survivors of CSA, these connections can often be misinformed and lead to the above symptoms.
While it is important to recognize that the pain of CSA can persist even after the abuse itself ends, it is also necessary to know that these repercussions, while they may be severe for many, do not mean that it is impossible to grow and move forward. There are many options to aid in the treatment process such as support groups, specialized therapists, and online forums that provide resources for CSA survivors. Organizations such as CARE House play a critical role in supporting survivors through their journey with these symptoms, and can direct many towards the right kind of help for them. Treatment is something that is just as individual of an experience as the repercussions are, and in my next entry, I will be covering a few of those bases.
See you all soon and know that there is support wherever you turn. – Z
Parry, S., & Simpson, J. (2016, September 21). How Do Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse Experience Formally Delivered Talking Therapy? A Systematic Review. Retrieved October 9, 2016, from Taylor & Francis Online website: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10538712.2016.1208704
Putnam, Frank W. “Ten-year research update review: Child sexual abuse.”
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 42.3 (2003): 269-278.