Skip to main content

Consequences of Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse is a terrible crime that can have long-lasting physical, emotional and psychological effects for survivors. Many child sexual abuse victims are so traumatized that they cannot come forward to report the incident, or they suppress the unwanted memories.

Child sexual abuse is a terrible crime that can have long-lasting physical, emotional and psychological effects for survivors. Many child sexual abuse victims are so traumatized that they cannot come forward to report the incident, or they suppress the unwanted memories. This can place the burden of discovering child sexual abuse on the child’s parents or legal guardians.

Knowing the common signs and outcomes of child sexual abuse can help you detect if your child is being victimized by a sexual predator. Every child is unique. How a child will be impacted by child sexual abuse depends on many different factors, including the child’s age, previous experiences and the severity of the abuse. Below are several frequently noted consequences of sexual abuse to look for in a child.

If you or a loved one has been affected by child sexual abuse, contact Manly, Stewart & Finaldi for legal assistance. You may be eligible for financial compensation for past and future losses associated with this heinous wrongdoing.

Physical Health Declines

Child sexual abuse can have a physical effect on a victim. Adults who are around the child frequently may be able to detect changes in the child’s physical appearance or health as potential signs of sexual abuse. Examples include:

  • A decrease or increase in appetite
  • An eating disorder
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Poor hygiene or self-care habits
  • Unexplained bruising or physical injuries
  • Genital injuries 
  • Trouble walking or sitting
  • Pain during urination or bowel movements
  • Chronic pain or headaches
  • Sexually transmitted diseases

Child sexual abuse can also result in other physical signs, such as stained or bloody undergarments, soiled bedding or bedwetting, and ripped clothing. If left undetected, child sexual abuse can also lead to an overall decline in physical health that may cause irreparable damage.

Mental Health Problems

Children who are sexually abused are at a much higher risk of developing psychological problems and mental health disorders that affect them well into adulthood. The lasting impact that child sexual abuse can have may lead to problems with mental health and overall wellbeing, such as:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Disassociation
  • Impulsivity
  • Anger or aggression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trust issues
  • Reduced quality of living
  • Personality disorders

These issues can impact many facets of life, including relationships, school and a career. As a child, a survivor may have outbursts, behavioral problems and emotional difficulties that can lead to decreased performance in school, or violence and delinquency. Sadly, the mental and psychological consequences of child sexual abuse can stay with a victim far into adulthood, increasing the odds of issues such as incarceration, poverty and homelessness.

Personality and Behavioral Changes

A victim of child sexual abuse may exhibit unusual personality or behavioral patterns, either for attention or due to the psychological effects of being abused. This may include sudden outbursts in school, mood swings, aggression, starting fights and chronic irritability. Extreme anger, frequent crying, withdrawal from others, isolation and disinterest are all potential behavioral effects of child sex abuse.

In many cases, experiencing a significant trauma such as sexual abuse can lead to regression in small children. This means a child may revert to actions and behaviors of a younger age, such as a child suddenly wetting the bed or sucking his or her thumb after outgrowing these habits. Acting younger or reverting to tasks and activities of a younger age could be a sign of emotional trauma.

Another potential effect of child sexual abuse is the child displaying overly sexualized behaviors or sexual knowledge that is beyond his or her age. This may involve frequently bringing up sexual subjects, asking inappropriate or unusual questions about sexuality, drawing sex-related pictures, using dolls or toys to mimic sexual acts, excessively touching or playing with his or her own private parts, or touching other children inappropriately.

Reduced Performance in School or Work

A child who is suffering from sexual molestation or abuse may skip school (truancy) or experience a decline in school performance. The victim’s education may become compromised due to issues such as mental health problems, the inability to concentrate on schoolwork, a disinterest in school or homework, a fear of being around a certain teacher or student, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, or behavioral outbursts in class. In some cases, a victim of child sexual abuse is disruptive in class as a cry for help.

Changes in the quality of a sexual abuse victim’s schoolwork or grades can have a significant impact on his or her education and ability to graduate. Ultimately, this can harm the victim’s future and career choices. Lasting psychological damage and trauma associated with being abused as a child could lead to trouble succeeding in the workforce as an adult, such as due to chronic anxiety or depression. These long-term issues can have an economic impact in the U.S. in the form of productivity losses.

Teen Pregnancy

In some cases, child sexual abuse can lead to early pregnancy. According to statistics from Darkness to Light, females who are sexually abused are more than twice as likely to become teen mothers than their non-abused peers. About 45 percent of teenage girls who become pregnant report a history of sexual abuse. Males who were sexually abused are also more likely to impregnate teens than their peers. Pregnancy can occur through rape or it may come as a consequence of oversexualized behavior by the victim due to a history of child sexual abuse.

Increased Risk of Substance Abuse

A child who has been sexually abused may develop substance abuse problems beginning in childhood or adolescence. A survivor may turn to drugs, tobacco or alcohol to cope with sexual abuse in the absence of healthy coping mechanisms, such as talking about what happened or going to therapy. 

In other cases, a child sexual abuse victim may begin abusing substances due to an inclination for high-risk behaviors. It may be a cry for help or a way for the victim to feel more in control of his or her life. It could also be used as a mental escape from an abusive situation or the aftereffects of being previously abused.

Substance abuse can have a very serious impact on a person in multiple ways. It could have a negative effect on physical health and even be fatal, through diseases or overdose. Drug and alcohol addiction can harm the liver, kidneys, cardiovascular system and other parts of the body. It can also cause or contribute to mental health disorders by changing how the brain experiences pleasure.

Higher Likelihood of Crime

Substance abuse connected to child sexual abuse can also contribute to the likelihood of criminal behaviors. Crime and delinquency among sexual abuse survivors are often connected to substance abuse. In children and young adults, criminal behaviors may be an appeal for attention in the hopes that someone will notice what is going on. It could also be a roundabout way for the victim to alert authorities to the sex crime being committed. When sexually abused children grow up, adult survivors are also more likely to engage in criminal activity and behaviors that can threaten their futures.

Trouble Forming Relationships With Others

A crime such as child sexual abuse can inflict permanent damage on a victim’s ability to trust other people. Adult survivors often struggle to form connections with others and maintain healthy relationships. This includes with friends, family members and potential romantic partners. Developing relationships with other people can be difficult due to trust issues, trouble with sexual intimacy and substance abuse problems.

Suicidal Thoughts or Behaviors

Suicidal thoughts, actions and behaviors can arise due to the mental and emotional health problems suffered by a victim of child sexual abuse. Issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress can lead to suicidal thoughts, self-harm behaviors such as cutting or suicide attempts. Studies show that adults who were sexually abused as children are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide.

What to Do if You Suspect Child Sexual Abuse

If you notice potential signs of sexual abuse in a child in your life, take immediate action. Let the child know that he or she is safe, is not to blame and will be believed. Report your suspicions to the police right away. If you are the child’s parent or legal guardian, take your child to the nearest hospital for medical care as well as a sexual assault forensic exam. This can help collect evidence of sexual assault or abuse. 

If you are not the child’s parent or legal guardian, communicate your suspicions with them. If you have reason to believe that a parent or guardian is the perpetrator, report the situation to your local Child Protective Services. They will investigate and may take action to safeguard the child from further harm, such as relocating the child to a different family member or group home. After you report it, follow up and play a supportive role to help the child stay safe.

There Is Hope for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse

The effects of child sexual abuse can stay with a survivor for many years. A survivor may suffer many different physical and mental health consequences, as well as face issues in school, the workplace or social situations. Many survivors turn to unhealthy and dangerous coping mechanisms, such as drugs or self-harming behaviors. There is hope, however, for victims of childhood sexual abuse.

If you or a loved one is a survivor, professional help for your diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health condition can allow you to cope with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety in a healthy way. You can learn tools and techniques to combat negative thoughts and feelings through professional care.

You can also fight for justice against a perpetrator through a child sexual abuse lawsuit in California. Bringing a claim could help you collect financial compensation for your past and future related losses, including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. An experienced Los Angeles child sexual abuse attorney can help you file a claim to move forward with the justice you deserve. We also serve sexual abuse victims in San Diego.

Manly, Stewart & Finaldi is regarded as America's leading law firm for sexual abuse cases. As a firm that exclusively handles sexual abuse cases, our California law firm offers experienced representation to obtain justice for sexual abuse survivors, harassment, and discrimination.

Learn more about Manly, Stewart & Finaldi.