The emotional impact of child sexual abuse
varies from child to child. However, short-term effects in child victims
are demonstrated in a complex array of emotional problems. These include:
- Fears and phobias - These fears are associated to the abuse event and the abuser. They may include the offender, strangers, all men, other adults, dark places, being alone, night time, or any individually specific cue that reminds them of the abuse.
- Depression - Depression may develop as the child holds the secret and may continue following disclosure. The threats of the perpetrator and the fears of telling, the helplessness and the hopelessness, the sadness and the grief - all contribute to the possibility of acute and chronic depression.
- Guilt - Children tend to blame themselves. They think they did something wrong and hold the responsibility for the abuse. They believe they have done something bad. Often the abuser tells them that they are bad and that the abuse was their fault.
- Confusion - The child is confused. Nothing is the way it is supposed to be. They want to feel loved and protected, safe and secure in this world. Sexual abuse affects their view of the world, of adults, of themselves.
- Anger- The child is angry, sometimes at the perpetrator, and often at the parent who did not protect. That anger may erupt at anyone in authority, siblings and other family members, or other children at school. If the abuser is a member of the family, the child will often feel safe to take the anger out on the non-offending family member, such as the mother. This phenomenon requires mothers to be patient and tolerant of this anger, understanding where it is coming from, and that it is not about the relationship with the mother.
Following disclosure, the safety of the child is primary. The child must be protected from further abuse. The child will experience a range of emotions, and the mother's patience, understanding, and support will help alleviate them. Counseling provides a safe place for the child to talk about feelings and learn ways to coping with them.