The long-term effects of child sexual abuse

CFCA Paper No. 11 – January 2013


Childhood sexual abuse is associated with a broad array of adverse consequences for survivors throughout their lifetime. As a result of more rigorous research studies in this field our understanding of the impacts of childhood sexual abuse is becoming more nuanced and a robust body of research evidence now clearly demonstrates the link between child sexual abuse and a spectrum of adverse mental health, social, sexual, interpersonal and behavioural as well as physical health consequences. To date, the strongest links have been found between child sexual abuse and the presence of depression, alcohol and substance abuse, eating disorders for women survivors, and anxiety-related disorders for male survivors. An increased risk of re-victimisation of survivors has also been demonstrated consistently for both men and women survivors. Some more recent research has also revealed a link between child sexual abuse and personality, psychotic and schizophrenic disorders, as well as a heightened risk for suicide ideation and suicidal behaviour.

Many questions still remain unanswered. For example, we need to better understand the experiences of boy victims of child sexual abuse particularly within the context of institutional cases of child sexual abuse and the impact of such experiences on key areas of victims' functioning.

Future research in this area needs to continue to tease out gender differences in victims' experiences of childhood sexual abuse, the impact of mediating variables on survivors' future functioning and their adjustment in all spheres of their life. This understanding will assist in the identification, treatment and prevention of child sexual abuse. Importantly, this knowledge is key to survivors of childhood sexual abuse being able to disclose their experiences in a safe and supportive environment and gaining access to effective services and the support they need to deal with those experiences and all its effects.