No one questions the serious effects that sexual abuse has on children. Few realize that left untreated, the effects of child sexual abuse may continue to surface as an adult. One study found that 95% of those who experienced child sexual abuse had mental disorders as an adult. Mental disorders include depression, severe anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Out of the 95%, about 50% were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as an adult.
Compounding the problem is the fact that many people see child sexual abuse as a “family affair.” Fearful of the shame such a scandal might bring, families often shove the issue under the rug, leaving the child without support or outlets to deal with the abuse. The shame of the abuse is often transferred to the child, who learns to keep silent about their experiences. This silence is so engrained that adults do not even feel comfortable disclosing the abuse to their counselors. In a study of 1,600 adults, one third of their counselors did not know whether their clients had experienced sexual abuse as a child.
From a prevention standpoint, the answer is pretty clear. Child sexual abuse has serious affects into adulthood, but part of that may be our tendency to sweep the issue under the rug. One way to help prevent serious mental disorders if your child has experienced sexual abuse is to talk with them and get them help. The message here is not that people who experienced child abuse are un-repairable, but that silence is dangerous.
Here are some great resources on talking to kids about sexual abuse: