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The Psychological Effects of Sexual Abuse

The Psychological Effects of Sexual Abuse

On 9 Mar 2018, in mental health

By Cathy Williams, MSW, LCSW, CEAP

Sexual abuse is any form of sexual violence. This includes: rape, groping, incest, molestation and non-consensual sexual contact. Sexual abuse has been a hot topic in the media lately due to the #MeToo movement, USA gymnastics and high-profile individuals who have been exposed for sexual assault. Repeated exposure can trigger memories of sexual abuse to those who have personally experienced it.

One in five girls and one in twenty boys have been a victim of childhood sexual abuse. Children between the ages of 7-13 are most at risk, with 95% of children being abused by someone they know. Girls who have been sexually abused may become sexually active and boys may act out. Children who have been sexually abused may self-harm, have unexplained fear of people or places and recurring nightmares.

Being sexually abused is a traumatic event. It is not uncommon for the person to have signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as anxiety and stress or trouble coping. They may also be depressed and have symptoms of feeling sad, tearful and having low energy. Flashbacks are common and disassociation can occur, where the person who was sexually abused detaches themselves from reality. Sexual abuse can lead to low self-esteem, anger and self-blame. Being sexually abused increases the risk of other psychiatric issues such as substance abuse and eating disorders. Sleep disorders frequently occur among those who have been sexually abused.

If someone you know has been sexually abused, there are many ways you can help them. Listening to the person is critical and is an important way to support them. You can validate how they feel by saying “I believe you.” You can help them by being nonjudgmental and not blaming them for what happened. Ask them how you can help by offering to look for resources or taking them to see a counselor.

BJC EAP is a resource for help, or you can contact the following:

National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE

St. Louis Regional Sexual Abuse Hotline 314.531.7273

Safe Connections Crisis Hotline 314.531.2003

Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline 800.392.3738

National Human Trafficking Resource Center 888.373.7888

Domestic Violence and Rape Hotline 800.392.9474

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