The Long-Term Consequences of Sexual Abuse

Victims of sexual abuse can suffer devastating physical and psychological effects. To work through abuse trauma, victims often require lifelong therapy.

A Look at the Effects of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse often affects the most vulnerable groups in our community, including children, the elderly, and the disabled.

The perpetrator of sexual abuse is almost always someone close to the victim. According to RAINN, 93% of sexual abusers know their victims.

Because of the degree of trust between the abuser and the victim, it can be difficult for survivors of sexual abuse to sort through their trauma or even understand that they have been abused.

A traumatized child may experience memory loss before or during incidents of abuse due to their highly distressing nature. In addition, victims of sexual assault and rape often have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on par with veterans who have seen combat.

After abuse, severe psychological distress can persist for decades.

In addition to the physical and psychological trauma, victims often spend many thousands of dollars on therapy and other treatments throughout their lifetimes.

Dissociative Disorders in Sex Abuse Victims

Psychiatric disorders are defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as “…problems with memory, identity, emotion, perception, behavior, and sense of self.” Traumatic experiences can cause dissociative disorders, which are a type of psychiatric disorder. There is a strong connection between sexual abuse and dissociative disorders, according to numerous studies. In this article, you will learn about the most common dissociative disorders and the long-term impact that these disorders have on the lives of sexual abuse survivors.

Types of Dissociative Disorders

The three types of dissociative disorders and their symptoms are as follows:

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Among the most common causes of dissociative identity disorder (DID) are overwhelming traumatic events and experiences faced during childhood. The symptoms of dissociative identity disorder, previously referred to as multiple personality disorder, may include the following:

  • Gaps in memory about past traumatic events
  • Existence of two or more distinct identities
  • Distress and difficulty functioning in a social or occupational environment

Dissociative Amnesia

When a person suffers from dissociative amnesia, there is a tendency to forget about traumatic experiences and to have difficulty recalling details about their lives. Dissociative amnesia occurs when a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event or abuse. A person with dissociative amnesia may experience the following symptoms:

  • Inability to recognize family and friends
  • Forgetting names of those close to the individual
  • Adoption of a new identity (known as dissociative fugue)
  • Memory loss of specific trauma

Dissociative amnesia should not be confused with amnesia caused by a medical condition.

Derealization/Personalization Disorder

It is possible that a person suffering from derealization/personalization disorder may feel like they are living in a dream and have a persistent sense of observing themselves outside of their body or objects around them that are not real. The following symptoms are possible:

  • Feeling a lack of emotion while remembering events
  • Feeling emotionally disconnected from others
  • Numbness of senses
  • Not feeling in control of speech or movement
  • Sensing that the body, legs, or arms appear distorted
  • Surroundings appearing distorted or unreal

The Long-Term Consequences of Dissociative Disorders

Those who have been sexually abused as children are more likely to develop dissociative disorders. The American Journal of Psychiatry published a study linking high dissociation disorders to childhood abuse, including sexual abuse. The study stated:

“…childhood sexual abuse, childhood physical abuse, and current psychiatric illness were all related to high scores on the Dissociative Experiences Scale.”

Despite the fact that dissociative disorders are rare in the general population, the long-term effects they have on those who suffer from them can be devastating. It is known that they can lead to relationship problems, problems keeping a job, insomnia, and even suicidal thoughts.

You can access the complete study here:

Childhood Sexual Abuse is Not Just Physical

Childhood sexual abuse is not just physical, as is commonly believed. Those who commit sexual abuse employ a range of methods to exploit their victims and harm them.

In the section below, our experienced trial attorneys discuss how childhood sexual abuse can take many forms other than physical.

Non-Physical Forms of Childhood Sexual Abuse

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), childhood sexual abuse includes any completed or attempted sexual act, sexual contact with, or exploitation of a child by a caregiver.

Physical forms of childhood sexual abuse may include, but are not limited to:

  • Completed or attempted sex acts
  • Abusive sexual touching

The following non-physical forms of childhood sexual abuse may also be committed by perpetrators:

  • Threatening or harassing behavior
  • Being forced to view pornography
  • Photographing sexual images

Does Trauma from Sexual Abuse Ever Go Away?

Experiencing sexual abuse as a child is a traumatizing and painful ordeal. Most survivors carry the horrific memories for the rest of their lives. In addition to the damage to physical, emotional, and mental health, this unspeakable trauma can negatively impact personal, romantic, and professional relationships.

Even though most survivors find it difficult to cope with the trauma they experienced, it is never too late to start the healing process. Here are a few tips for survivors to get help and start healing.

Healing from Abuse

Throughout the healing process, everyone will have their own experience, but there are a few things you can do to ensure you get the care and support you need.

  • Consult a professional: To heal, it is essential to have someone who can give you support and encouragement to speak about your experience when you are ready. Whether you prefer a one-on-one discussion with a therapist or are most comfortable in a support group, the first step in the process is to speak about your experience with someone.
  • Say something: Survivors of childhood sexual abuse often find that saying something – especially for the first time — is one of the most challenging aspects of healing. Many adult survivors keep the abuse a secret out of shame, guilt, or fear that they won’t be believed. The process of telling another person about abuse you suffered as a child can help you heal and let go of guilt and shame.
  • Understand that the abuse was not your fault: It is unfortunate that victim-blaming still persists despite the awareness gained through the #metoo movement of sexual abuse and assault in our society. Knowing that the abuse did not occur because of anything you did is a critical aspect of the healing process.
  • Speak out against your abuser: There are many reasons why breaking the silence is difficult and confronting your abuser can be a painful experience as well. Nevertheless, holding the perpetrator who assaulted you accountable for their actions will bring you one step closer to closure and healing and may help protect others.

Reporting Sexual Abuse

In order to protect your young relatives, you should be aware of the warning signs of childhood sexual abuse and how to report it. Red flags of abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • An increase in emotional withdrawal, anxiety, or depression
  • Bruising or swelling around the genital area, particularly if it’s unrelated to injury or illness
  • A reluctance to be left alone with a particular person

Take steps to remove the child from the company of the suspected abuser if you think a child close to you is being abused. Then, report the abuse to your state’s proper authorities.

Have you been sexually abused? We’re here to help.

Experiencing childhood sexual abuse can be one of the most traumatic events someone can possibly go through in their lifetime. Many long-term residual effects of childhood sexual abuse are highly challenging for survivors to overcome. It is a fact that emotional and psychological pain pose life-long burdens, and those responsible for inflicting such damage should be held accountable. Our attorneys understand that it is difficult to speak about childhood sexual abuse. Contact the Law Offices of Mark Yablonovich today at (888) 306-4228 for support in dealing with child sex abuse.

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