The long-term effects of child sexual abuse

CFCA Paper No. 11 – January 2013


What do we know now about the long-term impact of child sexual abuse? Since the 1998 NCPC Issues Paper (Mullen & Fleming, 1998) and a number of earlier reviews (e.g., Browne & Finkelhor, 1986; Beitchmann et al., 1992; Green, 1993) on this topic, there have been numerous studies across a range of areas that highlight the long-term impact of child sexual abuse on mental health and social, sexual and interpersonal functioning as well as physical health. There has also been more attention to the scientific rigour of studies and to the conceptual underpinnings of these effects. In addition, there is more recent awareness of the continuing and long-term impact on those who were sexually abused as children or adolescents in societal institutions, such as the Catholic Church and the Scouts, as well as the failure of those institutions to deal with these allegations over a number of decades (Fogler, Shipherd, Clarke, Jensen, & Rowe, 2008).

As Mullen and Fleming (1998) outlined more than a decade ago, there is a consistent picture of significant links between a history of child sexual abuse and a range of adverse outcomes both in childhood and adulthood. This paper outlines the findings of a range of research studies since then concerning mental health and functioning for survivors of child sexual abuse. It starts with a discussion of the methodological issues posed by this area of research and concludes with some of the gender differences and conceptual challenges presented by the findings of this body of research.

You can access the 1998 review of the long-term effects of sexual abuse, written by Paul Mullen and Jillian Fleming for the former National Child Protection Clearinghouse