The Effects of Child Molestation
Child sexual abuse or child molestation are the terms used when sexual acts are performed on a child by an adult or another adolescent (generally older). This includes coercion or forcing the child to partake in activities of a sexual nature.
When a father, or other biological family member is the abuser, the term used is incest.
The perceptions that sexual abuse is relatively harmless when the perpetrator is a woman is inaccurate. One report shows the long term effects of sexual abuse by female perpetrators, "as a result of the sexual abuse, male and female respondents reported long-term difficulties with substance abuse, self-injury, suicide, depression, rage, strained relationships with women, self-concept and identity issues, and a discomfort with sex".¹
Another study done in order to examine the long-term impact of mother-son incest said "...men reported mother-son incest, and these men endorsed more trauma symptoms than did other sexually abused men,"²
No matter who the perpetrator is, the effects on child molestation victims, male and female, can be severe.
The degree of effects suffered by child sexual abuse victims can vary, however the effects are similar and can consist of depression, anxiety, guilt, self loathing, anger, post-traumatic stress disorder, re-victimization.
Incest committed particularly by a parent can, but not necessarily, cause psychological trauma. Other molestation victims are not excluded from this trauma.
Many who have been sexually abused as a child, have a border line personality disorder. Or as many would prefer it to be called, emotionally unstable personality disorder.
Relationships are extremely difficult to maintain. As are friendships. Affection is difficult to display and many have a strong aversion to being touched.
Many, some whilst young, but particularly later in life will feel a sense of helplessness, loss of control and a deep seated sense of despair.
Flashbacks are a common occurance amongst those who have endured child molestation. The mental images that haunt these ones day and night, bring much stress. This of course can affect sex with a partner. This is discussed in length.
Negative thinking and pessimism are traits that are extremely hard to get out of. Many will carry them for the rest of their lives.
Passivity and a feeling that there is no way out can also play a large part in their life.
If these emotions are not addressed they can fall into a severe depression which could lead to suicide or suicidal tendencies. Their attitude is there is no point to living. (A doctor should be sought.)
Other Effects Suffered By Most
- The guilt that they are somehow to blame for what happened to them. (This can be compounded by family, especially of incest victims who blame the child)
- The shame they feel because of what happened to them, not truly understanding that they did no wrong. Many know that they did nothing wrong, but still in their heart feel that they did.
- The self doubt, never being sure of themselves or in their ability to handle situations and people, especially men.
- The self loathing, feeling that they are damaged and not worthy of a normal life. Self worth is very difficult to instill in someone who has been sexually abused as a child.
- The anger, at themselves, feeling they allowed it to happen. Anger at the perpetrator for the abuse, and anger at the world for allowing it to happen to them.
For most victims, all of these emotions can eventually be worked through with someone who will listen and talk with them. Some of these effects may never completely disappear. There are those who have been molested who will bear the scars of these effects for the rest of their lives.
Eating Disorder: Some will put on weight in order to make themselves unattractive, this is not done consciously. Others will become exceedingly thin, trying to be sure to look attractive. These might seem like contradictions and they are. Those who have been targeted in their childhood tend to have a great deal of problems with self worth and tie it to the physical in just about all cases. This is logical if you think about it, as the predator tied affection and rewards with his physical needs.
Alcohol, recreational drugs and perscription drugs are used by many. Usually in an effort to forget, and deal with the long term effects they face during their lives, due to sex abuse. The effects it has on their mental and emotional outlook is not to be taken lightly.
Sex and Attitude Toward It
Others who have been sexually abused will have a heightened sex drive. No matter how much sex they have, they never have enough.
There are those who will have sex with strangers, and be obsessed with certain sexual activities. Masturbation is prevalent amongst those affected by heightened sexual feelings. Some will masturbate many times through the day, for long periods of time. Keeping it under control is difficult and many don't bother to try to control it.
Sex books, sex movies, pornography will be consumed in an effort to satisfy an unsatiable desire for sex. The severity of any of this of course depends on each person, different personalities are affected differently.
This will decrease in many victims as they head towards middle life.
Aversion to sex. You then have the other end of the scale, where sex is difficult to have. Being touched in a sexual manner by a partner can bring on flashbacks which can stop sex.
For some, this will not stop the thoughts of sex acts which they consider dirty, and at the same time titilating. This could include reading pornographic books, seeing pictures, movies, etc. Once their sexual desire is abated, they feel great guilt and shame even though this is not warranted. This affects those with a religious background even more, as they are taught these things are disgusting.
Others have an aversion to being touched, which can impede on affectionate touching. Many are at the stage where sex is never entered into. Some marriages have become sexless.
Some will be in total confusion, and have contradictory feelings and actions. This is normal from an adult of child molestation.
Depends on the Person
Whilst these are some of the effects, they are by no means all. Each person deals with effects and its severity, depending on their own emotional and mental state, as well as the severity of the abuse.
Realise too that there are people who have never been molested, yet suffer some of the effects that are mentioned here.
Help From Others
A trusted, compassionate friend or relative, a loving and caring partner, or a therapist. (Note: We have cautioned through out this site that there are some professionals who do not have your interests at heart. Choose one carefully)
Depending on the abused person, it could take a few years or many, to minimise or expunge these effects, but it can be done. Everyone is different, every situation is different, so someone could get rid of these feelings in months, or they may never have felt them at all. Some feelings may never disappear.
If you have been sexually abused you also need to help yourself. Your road to recovery can not be done by others only.
Not Every Child Who Has Been Molested Will Suffer Severely
As we have mentioned throughout this site, it is the individuals experience and not the event that determines what effects they will suffer or what degree of trauma they will or won't endure.
You will have heard of instances (some have been mentioned by the media) where a father and daughter, two first cousins, mother and son, brother and sister will engage in sexual activity as if this is a normal activity. They go against society and its views.
However just their way of life will have psychological effects to some degree. (If children are involved, this can cause them great psychological damage.)
As we have stated many times, the effects will vary from patient to patient. The degree of the effects will vary. Though the similarities will be the same, no two people are alike.
What this means is you can not look at someone who has been molested as a child and say they have the above effects. Nor can you tell that someone has been molested just by looking at them. (The abused person also needs to realise this, as they often have the idea that others can tell just by looking at them.)
1 J Interpers Violence. 2004 Oct;19(10):1137-56. The long-term effects of child sexual abuse by female perpetrators: a qualitative study of male and female victims. Denov MS. University of Ottawa, Canada. PMID: 15358939 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
2 Child Abuse Negl. 2002 Apr;26(4):425-41. Effects of mother-son incest and positive perceptions of sexual abuse experiences on the psychosocial adjustment of clinic-referred men. Kelly RJ, Wood JJ, Gonzalez LS, MacDonald V, Waterman J. Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, USA. PMID: 12092807 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]