Impacts of Sexual Abuse in Childhood on Mental Health

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Various kinds of abuse, like physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, have been suffered by many people of all ages, globally. In this regard, it has been discovered that childhood abuse is the most damaging of all. Studies have shown that 1 in every 8 individuals worldwide suffers from mental illness. Illnesses like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are often caused by childhood trauma. In the past, abuse victims faced a lot of discrimination, hatred, and disgust. They were made to feel ashamed about themselves and were prevented from partaking in discussions of these traumatic events with anyone. Such victims felt ashamed, and society did not provide a conducive environment for them to heal from the trauma. Now, with the passage of time, this has changed. People want to talk about abuse to free themselves from any mental suffering and have also started to opt for therapy as a solution. This paper, by conducting surveys on the topic of abuse suffered in childhood, aims to focus on how trauma at a young age affects mental health and the role therapy has played in coping with the resulting guilt, shame, and mental distress.



sexual abuse, childhood, impact, trauma, therapy, healing.



  • To understand how sexual abuse affects its victim’s mental health, and how they end up reacting to it.
  • Observe if, and how shame prevents one from seeking help.
  • To make abused people aware about the positive impact of therapy.



Sexual abuse, as defined by The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI), is “sexual behaviour or a sexual act forced upon a woman, man, or child without their consent” (ARCCI). The effects of sexual abuse can be devastating, leading to severe mental conditions that can last a lifetime. According to The Journal of Psychology, “20-40% of people with psychological disorders have experienced sexual abuse” (The Journal of Psychology). These disorders can include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, nightmares, bipolar disorder, and dissociative disorders.

In the past, victims of sexual abuse often suffered in silence, unable to talk about their trauma and unable to find support as they were shunned by society and met with hatred, disgust, and hostility. This was especially true for victims who were abused as children; since they weren’t allowed to voice their complaints and were silenced harshly due to fear or shame, they often felt ashamed, guilty, and trapped in their mental agony. However, as society has progressed, awareness about the negative impact of sexual abuse on mental health has grown, and therapy has emerged as a powerful tool for coping with trauma.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “therapy can be an effective tool in helping individuals recover from sexual violence” (National Sexual Violence Resource Center). Through therapy, victims of sexual abuse can learn to cope with their trauma and improve their mental condition. This can include “cognitive-behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), and group therapy” (National Sexual Violence Resource Center). Through this tool for coping with trauma, victims who have been suffering from a young age are able to recover slowly and move on in their lives.

Thus, through this paper, my aim is to make people aware of the suffering of sexually abused people, see how therapy helps in coping with the trauma, and spread awareness about the positive impact of therapy.



Data was gathered for this paper by conducting surveys through a Google Form. The form was sent to 15 individuals, and the survey contained questions desi andgned to gather  of quantitative and  of qualitative data. The aim of the survey was to figure out how many people have undergone sexual abuse and to seek information from abused people a ut  therapy’s effects;  if it has really helped them cope with the trauma.


Literature Review 

Childhood sexual abuse is a traumatic experience that can have long-lasting effects on a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing. According to an article by Here to Help titled “Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Mental Health Issue victims of sexual abuse may struggle with trust issues, low self-esteem, and anger management problems. Additionally, children with mental and physical disabilities may be more vulnerable to the effects of sexual abuse than those without. (Click here for help.)

The Lasting Mental Health Impacts of Childhood Sexual Trauma,”  a research study by Amen Clinics, shows that the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse is alarmingly high among teenagers. “1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys will experience sexual abuse during their teenage years. “This abuse is often perpetrated by someone the child knows or trusts.” (Amen, 2021)

Further, the study by the National Institute for Health Research found that teenagers who reported sexual abuse had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression within six weeks of the abuse. Along with these disorders, these students also had nightmares and sleeping problems, which led to poor academic performance at school.

Another study by C. Downey and A. Crummy, published in Science Direct, shows the negative coping methods people develop after experiencing trauma. “People who have experienced trauma may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drugs and alcohol, to deal with the trauma.” (Downey & Crummy, 2022) However, therapy has been found to be an effective means of healing for those who have been sexually abused.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center also states that therapy can help individuals cope with the trauma of sexual abuse in a healthy way. Through therapy, individuals can learn to process their experiences, work through their emotions, and develop strategies to manage their symptoms.

Overall, the literature suggests that childhood sexual abuse is a serious issue that can have a profound impact on a person’s mental and emotional well-being. The fact that sexual abuse is so common among young people is very troubling, and research has shown that therapy can help those who have been hurt by this trauma heal.


Findings and analysis

The survey contained 19 questions: 2 subjective and 17 objective.

The survey started with a question asking if people have been victims of any abuse, to which 21% of people responded with sexual abuse, 7% with mental abuse, 28% with emotional abuse, and 7% with verbal abuse. Many abused people end up dealing with different psychological disorders. When this question was asked, 4% of people responded with post-traumatic stress disorder, 7% with anxiety disorders, 5% with depression, 1% with bipolar disorder, 2% with eating disorders, and 1% with alcohol use disorder.

People who have been victims of abuse in childhood feel perpetrated, and they have certain things (triggers) that remind them of the abuse they experienced. In the collected data, 6% of people get triggered by memories due to closeness, 5% of people by touch, 2% of people by shouts, 1% of people by scars, 1% by smells, and 1% also get triggered by sounds.

50% of the respondents are afraid of their tendency to be abusive, either emotionally or sexually, while 35% of people are not afraid of their abusive tendency, and 14% of people are not sure about them being abusive. The major reason behind the trauma of being abused is the fear of discussing it or not having support. People with a conducive environment were able to talk about the abuse they experienced, but people without a conducive environment could not discuss it with anyone. Data showed 80% of people had a conducive environment, but 20% of people were told to be quiet about the abuse they experienced as children. This trauma frequently leads to severe psychological issues throughout a person’s lifetime; when asked if they were afraid to tell about the abuse they received as a child, 53% of people said yes, which is a high percentage.23 percent are not afraid to tell anyone about it, and the same number are unsure whether they are ready or afraid to discuss the abuse they experienced.

The cure for coping with trauma is therapy. Therapy is the most effective tool, and many people have overcome childhood trauma, whether sexual or emotional.

As the survey proceeded, in order to figure out the impact of therapy and whether it has really helped people cope with the trauma, a question regarding the impact of therapy was asked. In this context, 33% of people responded yes, 16% of people responded no, and 50% of people were not sure. Furthermore, people are more likely to get abused by someone close—a relative or a friend—as compared to any acquaintance or stranger. In this data, 36.4% of people were abused by some close relative, 27.3% of people were abused by some acquaintance, and 36.4% of people did not know who had abused them.

At the end of the survey, two subjective questions asked about the prevention of any kind of abuse and how they think a person can cope with the trauma. To prevent any kind of abuse from happening to any loved one or any child, most people would educate and teach them self-defense. In order to cope with the trauma, many people responded that both books and therapy are helpful, and most importantly, talking and discussing about the abuse is the most helpful activity. Many people said that they would create a very comfortable environment for their children, friends, or loved ones so they could talk to them about anything.



Sexual abuse is a common issue, and it may continue till the very end of an individual’s life. People who have been a victim of sexual or any kind of abuse should take therapy sessions in order to save themselves from any psychological disorder, which often results from stress caused by trauma in adulthood. Elders should provide a conducive environment so their children can talk to them about anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Parents should also teach their children self-defence so they can defend themselves when they feel like harm could come to them. If, in any case, therapy does not help them, they should file charges against the person who has abused them. This will at least provide closure, which will be beneficial for their mental peace.


Work Cited

  • “The Lasting Mental Health Impacts of Childhood Sexual Trauma.” Amen

Clinics The Lasting Mental Health Impacts of Childhood Sexual Trauma Comments, 13 Apr 2021, auma/.

Accessed on 22nd November, 2022.

  • National Child Traumatic Stress Network “What is Child Trauma? Trauma Types:

Sexual Abuse: Effects.” Accessed on 1st December, 2022.

  • Oram, Sian. “Sexual Violence toe and Mental Health.” Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 April, 2019. Accessed on 10th November, 2022.

  • “Signs a Child Is Being Sexually Abused.” The Mental Health Effects of Sexual

Assault            and      Abuse, GoodTherapy, 11        Apr.     2019,    Accessed on 25th November, 2022.

  • THE LONG-TERM MENTAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE, D2L, 2021. “Child Abuse and Mental Health Effects.” D2L Accessed on 3rd December, 2022.
  • Spatro, Josie. “Impact of child sexual abuse on mental health: prospective study in males and females.” The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science Volume 184, Issue 5, pp.416-21, 2004. PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Accessed on 2nd December, 2022.
  • Spatro, Mullen, et al. “Impact of Child Sexual Abuse on Mental Health.” The British Journal of Psychiatry, Cambridge University Press, Volume 184, Issue 5, 2018. hild-sexual-abuse-on-mental-health/1344FE166B2E094FADD37505687BFF41. Accessed on 3rd November, 2022.



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