Sexual abuse may cause devastating long-term effects on the individual. For children, especially, the ability to learn slows down. The survivor may become emotionally numb. They live in a state of trauma similar to soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
When a human is afraid or under stress, the body becomes tense; it focuses on how to escape; it freezes. The brain’s learning areas shut down and anger and fear dominate their emotions. Therefore, the abused person will have trouble forming healthy relationships in their society and within their own families. And, sadly, often the abused person grows to be an abusive parent. Studies from the field of psychology provide information about the effects that sexual violence may have on the individual, often leading to one or more of these effects.
Having difficulty with concentration
Learning difficulties, memory loss, or mental illness
Running away from home
Prostitution or deformed sexual desire
Impaired relationships and trust
Poor parenting skills
Emotionally numbness and disassociation
Overwhelmed with the memories, images, and feelings of the rape
Experiencing nightmares and flashbacks
Irritability and anger
Lack of empathy and unable to have loving feelings
Low self-esteem and depression
Hypervigilance and easily startled
More likely to abuse alcohol and drugs
Children who have these experiences are at greater risk for adverse impacts on brain development and problems with aggression, but they are not doomed to poor outcomes. With help, rape victims make progress toward recovery. This is most effective in the first three months after the rape. This progress toward recovery can happen if the survivor receives strong and patient support from caring people in a safe environment, and if the survivor has counseling to help them understand that this violence is a societal problem, not an individual problem.
In many social circles, the power differences between male and female are minimal. However, in many social circles, those differences in power lead men to think that the woman has little value and abuse is expected. Working with other women to stop these societal abuses and to protect other women is a strong therapeutic activity.
Psychological needs that are especially important to trauma survivors.
Developing Child at Harvard University
McCann and Pearlman’s (1990) Psychology, Trauma, and the Adult Survivor
Resnick, Patricia A. (2001) Stress and Trauma