Sexual abuse can result in the child being unable to accomplish normal developmental tasks. The child's sense of self is altered, and sexual abuse is a violation of most of the tasks of childhood. Erik Erikson (1959) outlined stages of development and associated tasks as:
  • Infancy (Birth - 12 months): Development of Trust versus Mistrust
  • Younger years (1 - 3 years): Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt
  • Early childhood (3 - 5): Initiative versus Guilt
  • Middle childhood (6 - 10): Industry versus Inferiority
  • Adolescence (11-18): Identity versus Role Confusion

One of Erikson's assumptions is that the child must accomplish each task sequentially, and that an unfinished task affects each stage of development. Sexual abuse interferes with the child's ongoing development and elicits opposite effects. The sexually abused child develops mistrust, shame, guilt, inferiority, and role confusion. The extent of abuse and age of onset are two of the determining factors affecting impact of sexual abuse.  

The sexually abused child tends to develop a preoccupation with the sexual abuse and fears, guilt, and shame associated with it. The child may also develop a preoccupation with bodily function and health as each incident of sexual abuse is a violation of the body. Sexually abused children tend to experience increased somatic symptoms, such as stomachaches, headaches, and physical illnesses that have no organic diagnosis.

If the child is sexually abused by a parent figure and this abuse is ongoing, the child may take over more adult responsibilities in the home and portray a pseudo-maturity and experience role confusion. This confusion in roles may affect the child's ability to relate with peers and separate and isolate the child from normal developmental relationships and activities.


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