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Effects of Child Sexual Abuse

In general the effects of abuse vary in each child and can depend on things like the type of abuse, who the perpetrator was and the length of time over which it occurred. Other factors may be the child’s age and developmental level as well as the level of support they receive upon disclosure.

Remember that there is no right or wrong way to behave after sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse may have both short term and long term effects; in the short term children may feel

  • Fear As the offender often uses threats to ensure the child’s secrecy
  • Helplessness/powerlessness. Children in this situation often feel that they have no control over their own lives or even over their own bodies.
  • Guilt and Shame. The child knows something is wrong, but blames him or herself not others.
  • Responsibility. The offender often makes the chid feel responsible for the abuse, and for keeping the abuse a secret
  • Betrayal and Anger. Children may feel betrayed or angry because they are dependent upon adults for nurturing and protection and the offender is someone who they should be able to love and trust. They may also feel betrayed by a non-offending parent who they believe has failed to protect them.
  • Sadness. Children may feel grief due to a sense of loss, especially if the perpetrator was loved and trusted by the child.
  • Flashbacks. These can be like nightmares which happen while the child is awake. They are a re-experience of the sexual assault as it occurred at that time.

Other short term impacts may include:

  • Physical symptoms, such as Sexually Transmitted Infections, pregnancy , headaches, abdominal pain, fatigue or physical injuries;
  • Behavioural problems such as irritability, clinginess, phobias, eating and sleeping disorders, dissociating and difficulty concentrating.

Long term effects of child sexual abuse may include the following:

Self-Blame Inability to Concentrate Nightmares
Guilt Sleep Disturbances Bed Wetting
Low Self Esteem Anxiety Acting Out Sexually
Feeling Isolated Suicidal Thoughts or Ideation Stressed
Depressed Drug Use Regression
Shame Denial Anger
Difficulty Trusting Others Feeling Dirty Becoming withdrawn
Day Dreaming Minimising the Abuse Isolation
Flashbacks Confusion around Sex and Affection Testing Behaviour
Dissociative Symptoms Self Mutilation Uncontrollable Emotions
Spacing out Eating Disorders Distorted Body Image
Detaching Dependency  
Feeling Panicky or overwhelmed Fear of Men/Women  




Find the child sexual abuse prevention resource. ‘Ending offending together’ here:

Child Matters:

New Zealand Police:


Follow this link for a list of books around child sexual abuse available from Rape Crisis Dunedin

Downloadable resources

Child Sexual Abuse Factsheet

Child Development Age and Stages

Look Listen Act