Inability to Trust

The experience of child sexual abuse will have an effect on a child victim's ability to trust. The extent of this effect will be dependent upon the identity of the perpetrator. If the person is in a close, trusted relationship, the violation on the ability to trust is significant and the life impact is long-term

The degree of harm done to the ability to trust is dependent on a number of factors including:
  • Age of the victim at time of abuse
  • Amount of time abuse occurred and age of victim at disclosure
  • Extent of abuse, including type and amount of force
  • Degree of pleasure or pain experienced by victim during the abusive event
  • Response of others following disclosure (did they believe the victim or the perpetrator?) 
  • Supportive intervention available to the victim following disclosure
  • Coping skills available to the victim to manage thoughts and feelings related to abuse
  • Level of self-esteem at time of abusive event and resilience and other factors of internal strength

The effect of sexual abuse is variable from child to child, and many factors influence the amount of harm done to the ability to trust. The closer the relationship between the victim and perpetrator, the more impact the abuse has on the victim's ongoing ability to trust. If the abuser is a parent or family member, the level of betrayal is increased, resulting in a complex series of relational effects. When betrayal is higher, the tendency of the victim is to bond with the abuser, developing a betrayal bond that is similar to an addiction. The victim will be concerned about the well-being of the abuser and lie for the abuser to protect him. (See Stockholm Syndrome.) 

  • The least impactful to trust will be a stranger, although sexual abuse may result in fears or phobias in social experiences. However, the circumstances of the abuse will affect the impact, and "strangers" may be an ongoing problem. 
  • If the perpetrator was a community leader, someone known and respected by family members, the experience can affect attitude toward authority and trust in leadership. This may later affect the victim's ability to engage in community activities or even follow instructions of an employer.
  • If the perpetrator was a family member, grandfather, uncle, cousin, the impact to the ability to trust will be greater. Some family members are assigned roles of protecting, similar to the parent. A grandparent would be expected to protect, care for, and defend a grandchild against harm or threat. To then threaten and harm that child is both an abuse of authority and a violation of role responsibility. This will result in the child's inability to trust family members and sometimes others in positions of protection. The betrayal can potentially have an impact on future friendships and adult intimate relationships.
  • If a child is abused by a sibling, it is a violation of relationship. An older sibling is usually someone the child looks up to and expects to protect and watch out for him. This abuse is a betrayal. Relationships with siblings have long-term effects on the emotional development of children, and sibling abuse will impact normal development of the ability to trust. 
  • The most impactful relationship is the primary caregiver, the ones responsible for safety, care, and well-being of a child. The child knows that the parent has this responsibility from earliest age. For the parent to then harm, abuse, and destroy both the relationship but the very "self" of the child, is the ultimate betrayal of trust. This violation has the capacity to affect all future relationships and life choices.



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