What Impact Does Sexual Abuse Have on Victims & Family/Friends?

This post is a part of our guide series to support anyone who may have been sexually abused or has questions around the topic:

What is Sexual Abuse? Definitions & Meanings
Who Commits Sexual Abuse & Why?
What are Signs & Symptoms of Sexual Abuse?
Handling & Dealing with Sexual Abuse
How to Heal and Recover from Sexual Abuse
What Impact Does Sexual Abuse Have on Victims, Families & Friends?
How to Report Sexual Abuse (and Who to Report it to)
How is Sexual Abuse Proven in Court?
Punishment & Sentencing for Sexual Abuse
How can Sexual Abuse be Prevented?
Sexual Abuse Data & Statistics
Sexual Abuse Helplines, Support & Further Reading

Sexual abuse can have devastating effects on victims and their family/friends, these effects can impact both physical and mental health. Unfortunately, some people will endure the effects throughout their life, however, each individual will respond differently to the trauma.

In this guide we will discuss the impacts of sexual abuse and how this affects people in different ways. It is important to remember that there is help and support available to help you recover from this trauma, reach out to someone today.

How does sexual abuse affect victims whilst still under the control of their abuser?

This will depend on a number of factors and will vary as each individual will respond differently to what has occurred. For example, if the victim is a child, the abuser may cause confusion by trying to associate feelings of “love” with the abuse. Unfortunately, sometimes this could lead to the child believing they have a special relationship with the abuser and not realise the reality of the abuse until they are no longer under the control of the abuser.

Sadly, some victims will be convinced by the abuser that they deserved to be abused and are not good enough to deserve a caring relationship. This could lead to victims losing their self-esteem and confidence, they may feel ashamed and angry and believe that somehow they are responsible for the abuse. There will be some victims who are too scared to tell someone because the abuser has threatened them. Remember if you are ever in this situation, it’s never your fault, no one deserves to be mistreated, speak to someone and get help.

What is the short-term impact on family and friends witnessing (or aware of) the abuse?

Sexual abuse can have a significant impact on the family and friends of the survivor. They may experience some of the emotions as the victims, they may be in shock after finding out about the incident, feel confused, angry or try to deny that it happened. Family and friends may feel helpless or unsure about how they can support the victim or guilty for not being able to prevent it from happening. Sometimes relationships can be damaged as the victim may have difficulties trusting people after the incident or if family and friends were not supportive.

How does Sexual Abuse affect survivors long-term after they have escaped the abuse?

Sexual assault and abuse can have physical, physiological and emotional effects on the survivor, this can be extremely difficult to deal with. Many survivors tend to blame themselves and feel guilty and ashamed for not fighting back or trusting someone, trying to take responsibility for something which was not their fault. Many survivors lose confidence in themselves and trust in others, the trauma of the incident can make them question whether the world is a safe place and if there are any good people. Some survivors struggle with intimacy after the rape or sexual assault, flashbacks and memories of the abuse may lead to panic or not wanting intimacy of a sexual relationship. Victims can be left shocked and overwhelmed with emotions which can invariably lead to damage if they do not reach out for support.

What impact does Sexual Abuse have on children who experience it from a young age?

Child abuse can have devastating effects which can include;

  • Certain regions in the brain fail to develop or function properly, causing issues in learning, memory, motor skills, emotion regulation and other problems
  • Diminished executive and cognitive skills
  • Poor mental and emotional health
  • Difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Substance abuse

Unfortunately, victims of child abuse can learn to treat their own children in the way they were treated, passing the trauma of abuse down through generations.

Can sexual abuse affect sexual orientation or development in children?

Children who experience sexual abuse can be affected by a lifelong impact on their physical and mental health. The effects of the abuse will of course depend on a number of factors such as the age of the child, the length and the severity of the abuse, the environment and the personality of the child. Every child will react differently to what has occurred. Some of the impacts include;

  • Psychological – Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and mood disorders (depression)
  • Social difficulties- childhood abuse can impact a child’s ability to communicate with others and form healthy relationships. Children will have problems with trusting others and are more likely to form insecure attachments with people.
  • Trauma- overwhelming experience that makes the child question whether the world is good and safe, having a negative effect on their development
  • Brain development- impaired cognitive abilities such as delayed speech and development, difficulty in paying attention, also a state of fear and anxiety in a child.
  • Behavioural- being sad and withdrawn or aggressive and hyperactive

Whilst sexual abuse can significantly impact an individual’s overall capacity for attractions, relationships and intimacy, it most likely does not affect and determine sexual orientation.

Are children who experience sexual abuse more likely to develop antisocial personality disorders or become abusers themselves?

Children that have experienced abuse tend to suffer from long-term physical and mental health problems making it difficult for them to concentrate in school, and reducing their career and employment prospects. They are likely to develop antisocial behaviour and tend to resort to substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

These behavioural issues increase the risk of the child growing up and continuing the cycle of abuse. However there are many factors that can influence the ongoing cycle of abuse, victims may struggle with the association between love and abuse. Other victims will experience problems with anger, insecurity, trust and control, but this does not mean everyone who has been abused will experience these effects. Not all victims of sexual abuse become abusers themselves, with the right help and support they are able to channel the trauma from their experience into a positive transformation.

We understand how difficult it is to see someone you know or love experiencing abuse, sometimes trying to help a victim is not easy. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and the first step that you should take is to talk to someone. No one should have to deal with abuse alone.

Here at the Criminal Injuries Helpline, we help victims of violent crime and abuse recover compensation. You may want to help the victim gain some justice, get in touch with us today to see if the victim would qualify.

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