Sexual assault in childhood has adverse effects that can last a lifetime on the victims. Victims of sexual abuse face chronic psychological impacts on their adjustments through the development process. Every year millions of boys and girls face sexual abuse globally and across all segments of society. Close people conduct the majority of the sexual exploitation cases that the child knows and trusts. The aftermath of a sexual assault is devastating physical and psychological issues, poor trust and relationships, and affected social behaviors. Rape, transactional/survival sex, forced prostitution and forced early marriage are the forms of sexual violence children face. However, children can overcome sexual violence with the right support, although some keep quiet because they are threatened with further harm if they disclose the abuse. Child sexual abuse has severe physical and long-term psychological consequences affecting their development.
The issue of child sexual abuse has become a major challenge in society despite the deterrent, multidisciplinary and preventive measures imposed by the government and professionals. Parents and guardians have the major obligation of protecting children against problems such as sexual exploitation. However, challenges of domestic violence, weak parenting, and parental mental illness hinder the prevention and intervention against sexual abuse (Hailes et al., 2019). Child victims of sexual abuse develop personal difficulties, which affect their development and psychological problems. The psychological effects of sexual harassment are less common and include depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), cognitive deficit, dissociative behaviors, asymmetrical stress response, and maladaptive sexual development (Ensink et al., 2020). Moreover, sexual abuse has extensive social impacts, such as high dropout rates and drug and alcohol abuse. The sustained impacts of sexual abuse affect the overall maldevelopment, and there is a need for keen examination to determine the non-common impacts.
First, sexual assault causes immediate physical effects on children. Early pregnancy, Sexually Transmitted Infections, and HIV/AIDS are some physical challenges inflicted by sexual harassment. HIV transmission is higher in childhood violent and forced-sex situations (Jone & Ramchandani, 2018). Being a teen mom is a risk factor for depression, school dropout, poverty, and complications in pregnancy. According to Ensink et al. (2020), children who suffer from early marriages and pregnancy have derailed the development process. The victims respond to the physical harm with difficult and painful emotions, change of behavior, and social interactions.
Sexual harassment affects how children interact with their environment affecting their social interactions and patterns. Sexually offended children develop poor relationship patterns with the extended family, friendship networks, schools, neighborhoods, and within the community (Jone & Ramchandani, 2018). Victims of sexual offenses develop trust issues affecting social patterns and behaviors. Sexual assault affects the individuals’ capacity to work and participate in family and community life. Low self-esteem and aggression propagate feelings of loneliness and stigmatization, impairing social relations. The behavioral reaction to sexual assault includes substance use, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.
Sexual assault and harassment increase the risk of depression. Sexually abused people may feel distressed and sad; hence their life becomes hampered. Flashbacks of past sexual trauma that carry on to their adult life without the right support and help (Hailes et al., 2019). The signs of childhood distress include sleeping disorders, poor school performance, and panic attacks. Research indicates 20-40% of people who experience childhood sexual abuse develop a history of lifetime depression (Jone & Ramchandani, 2018). Depression is characterized by low mood, energy levels, and loss of interest in young children. Depression has high comorbidity with anxiety disorders lingering to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with enduring effects.
PTSD is an aggravated form of depression with more psychological effects. After abuse, PTSD makes the victims always feel in danger of sexual violence, so they are always on guard. Intrusive symptoms of PTSTD will perform repeated, unwanted memories of the abuse in recurrent flashbacks and nightmares. The affected people respond to the symptoms by avoidance of places, situations, people, and objects that resurface the sexual abuse memories. People with PTSD are challenged by trouble falling asleep, fear, poor concentration, and hyper-vigilance to surroundings (Ensink et al., 2020). Survivors often take personal responsibility for the sexual abuse hence taking in the guilt, shame, and self-blame. Stressful events and symptoms of PTSD affect how children think and feel hence influencing their behaviors.
Psychological adjustments may be achieved through proper support, and evidence-based intervention strategies applied immediately after an episode of violence. Sexual victimization is a crisis that should be resolved before the immediate harm develops into tertiary non-reversible effects. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) can be used after sexual victimization to limit depression and PTSD (Jone & Ramchandani, 2018). There should be established and consistent policies to deter sexual harassment by reinforcing the disciplinary actions against perpetrators of the harassment.
Sexual abuse experiences influence the victims’ severe physical, psychological, and social challenges. Sexual assault is an infringement of human rights that causes long-term symptoms. Clearly, it would appear that the adult social behavior of sexual abuse victims in childhood is impaired due to the violent experience. Depression is a co-occurring psychological diagnosis in people who have experienced sexual abuse. Isolation, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide are the noxious behaviors likely to be influenced by child sexual abuse. Elevated emotions of sexual violence trigger traumatic experiences in the form of PTSD. CBT, CPT, and PET are evidence-based intervention strategies for depression and PTSD management.
Ensink, K., Borelli, J. L., Normandin, L., Target, M., & Fonagy, P. (2020). Childhood sexual abuse and attachment insecurity: Associations with child psychological difficulties. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 90(1), 115-124. Web.
Hailes, H., Yu, R., Danese, A., & Fazer, S. (2019). Long-term outcomes of childhood sexual abuse: An umbrella review. The Lancet Psychiatry, 6(10), 830-839. Web.
Jones, D., & Ramchandani, P. (2018). Child sexual abuse: Informing practice from research. CRC Press. Web.