Since perpetrators of sexual abuse are often older than the child victim, and children are generally taught that their elders are right, they may believe the abuse is their fault. They may experience feelings of loyalty and affection for the abuser and believe that anything sexual is wrong. These beliefs may lead children to think they are dirty and damaged. While some children will rage and rebel as a result of these thoughts, others may become quiet and compliant. We might notice some of the following symptoms in children who are victims of sexual abuse:

  • depression and/or withdrawal from others, including God
  • anxiety
  • nervousness, especially about being alone
  • fear of people who remind them of their abuser
  • hypervigilance
  • anger
  • change in appetite and/or eating disorders
  • suicidal and/or other self-harming behaviours
  • low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness
  • sleep problems including nightmares
  • trouble concentrating
  • confusion
  • unusual aggressiveness
  • lack of trust
  • secretiveness
  • conduct issues
  • excessive compliance
  • refusal to go to school
  • abnormal interest in anything of a sexual nature
  • complaints of something wrong in the genital area
  • seductive behaviours.

Adult survivors of child sexual abuse may exhibit many of the above symptoms as well as the following additional symptoms, especially if the emotional trauma is left untreated:

  • excessive drive to perform to prove their worth
  • addictions to substances, sex, pornography and/or work
  • higher likelihood of developing stress-related health problems, such as diabetes, high blood
  • pressure, heart attack, and stroke
  • higher likelihood of abusing and/or manipulating others in order to stay in control
  • body image problems
  • sexual dysfunction
  • dysfunctional relationships
  • intimacy issues
  • poor parenting skills.

© 2016 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Published at

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