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Consequences and impacts of child sexual abuse

Early experiences can greatly affect how the mind of a child or young person develops.

When someone suffers abuse as a child it can radically shape their emotional development, affecting their sense of self-worth and their ability to trust other people.  While long-term impacts will vary from person to person, many individuals experience one or more of the following effects. These effects could be mild, or they could have a significant and even devastating impact on the survivor’s everyday life.

The impacts listed below are all normal and typical reactions to trauma, and they have been experienced by many adult survivors. Often, these responses are the mind’s way of protecting itself from re-living the distressing experience and suffering more pain and upset. It can take so much energy to manage these difficulties that survivors are left with limited energy to engage with opportunities like education, employment, friendship, sport and creativity. Impacts can occur and re-occur at any stage of the survivor’s life.

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Difficult emotions

Sometimes survivors feel low, sad, anxious, angry or irritable. They might also experience mood swings, which can include feelings of intense distress and possibly thoughts of suicide.


These are very powerful memories of what happened, and might also include nightmares.

Feeling alone and difficulty in having healthy relationships

Some survivors find it hard to trust other people and withdraw because of fear of getting hurt. Some expect to be ‘let down’, which in turn can make them more likely to be pulled into difficult or abusive relationships, or to have difficulty trusting services.

Feelings of shame and guilt

Adult survivors can experience low self-esteem and can feel ‘worthless’, ‘useless’ or ‘not good enough’. Some people can also either expect far too much of themselves or might not expect anything at all.

Feeling powerless

Survivors might find it hard to assert their own needs or say ‘no’ when necessary.


This might be feeling fearful of possible danger, having phobias (especially a fear of being in crowds or around strangers), and experiencing panic attacks.

Sexual difficulties

These could include problems with physical contact and intimacy.

Memory problems

Some survivors might only remember small fragments of what happened, or may not be able to recall whole periods of their childhood.


This is when a person sometimes feels detached or disconnected from what’s going on around them, and it’s not unusual among survivors.

This table shows the wider possible impacts of child sexual abuse on victims and survivors


Physical health

Physical injuries
High BMI
Problems related to childbirth
Unexplained medical problems
Emotional wellbeing

Emotional wellbeing, mental health and internalising behaviours

Emotional distress
Trauma / PTSD
Externalising behaviours

Externalising behaviours

Substance misuse
'Risky' and inappropriate sexual behaviours
Interpersonal relationships

Interpersonal relationships

Reduced relationship satisfaction and stability
Issues with intimacy and parent-child relationships


Lower educational attainment
Higher unemployment
Financial instability
Religious and spiritual belief

Religious and spiritual belief

Disillusionment with religion
Faith as coping mechanism
Vulnerability to re-victimisation

Vulnerability to re-victimisation

sexual re-victimisation in childhood and adulthood
Other types of victimisation