Unfortunately the “unthinkable” is all too common and increasingly attracting the attention of the media.  I am talking about childhood sexual abuse, which with increasing regularity manifests in adult mental dysfunction.  It is thought that 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.

What is child abuse?

Simply put, sexual abuse is a crime against a child.  The sad fact is that 93% know their attacker and this often ranges from a grandfather/father/step brother/uncle touching and caressing a granddaughter with wrongful intent to outright rape and incest and anything in between.  Please note although we talk here about “girls”, this malady can just as easily affect boys. (See statistics above: 1 in 6!)

According to the American psychological association “child sexual abuse includes touching and nontouching behaviors:

  • sexual kissing
  • inappropriate touching or fondling of the child’s genitals, breasts, or buttocks
  • masturbation
  • oral-genital contact
  • sexual or digital (with fingers) penetration
  • pornography (forcing the child to view or use of the child in)
  • child prostitution
  • exposure or “flashing” of body parts to the child
  • voyeurism (ogling of the child’s body)
  • verbal pressure for sex”

Adding insult to injury abusers have been known to tell children that it is the fault of the child that they are abused, shifting the blame away from the abuser, where it belongs, and placing it on the child. Along with this, abusers may threaten or bribe the child into not speaking up; convincing the child that he or she will never be believed.

What is the impact of Sexual Abuse?

The reaction to sexual abuse is unique for each person; however here is a list of some common effects that impact on adult functioning years later:  The American Psychological Association lists the following:

  • Social and psychological symptoms
  1. Depression
  2. Guilt (Survivors may feel guilt or shame because they made no direct attempt to stop the abuse or because they experienced physical pleasure)
  3. Fear
  4. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  5. Dissociative and anxiety disorders
  6. Eating disorders
  7. Poor self-esteem
  8. Somatization, i.e., the expression of distress in physical symptoms
  9. Chronic pain
  • Behavioral problems can include
  1. Sexualized behavior – which brings elevated risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections
  2. School/learning problems
  3. Substance abuse
  4. Destructive behavior
  5. Sexual dysfunction in adulthood
  6. Criminality in adulthood
  7. Suicide

How do Survivors cope with the abuse in later life?  According to http://rainn.org Some common coping mechanisms are the following:

    • Grieving / Mourning (Many things were lost— childhood experiences, trust, innocence, relationships with family members. The survivor may feel a deep sadness, jealousy, anger or longing for something never had)
    • Alcohol or drug abuse (The abuse of substances can act as an escape from the intense waves of feelings, the terror and helplessness.
    • Disordered Eating / Eating Disorders (Compulsive control of food intake can be a way of taking back control over the body that was denied during the abuse.
    • Self-injury (There are many ways survivors have coped with the feelings that can cause emotional or physical injury on the self. Burning or cutting are some ways for a survivor to relieve intense anxiety, triggered by memories of the abuse


What causes some men to molest someone in their family?

This is not an easy question to answer; however, the following are common features

  • A person with power or influence over a child develops a sexual interest in the child.
  • Whatever internal and external barriers or “stops” that would otherwise prevent them from betraying the child’s trust, are overcome.
  • Lack of empathy toward the victim
  • They might have been sexually or physically abused themselves as children
  • Develop deviant sexual appetite by watching pornography or masturbate with sexual fantasies
  • The person acts on their sexual fantasies and impulses toward the child.
  • Mental illness


It is not possible to give an answer that dignifies the above question.  It is a highly complex issue that affects people differently.  However, treatment and therapy is available and psychologists are well versed in the effects of child abuse and how it would have impacted on or delayed the Survivors mental, physical, emotional and sexual development during childhood.

This terrible “unthinkable” crime against children can happen to anyone.  It cuts across all social borders, religions, educational abilities and socio-economic barriers.  Don’t think that it can’t happen to your family or child!  When last have you opened the conversation with your child about sexual abuse, about when to say NO and that they have the confidence to come to you if there is any problem?

It’s time to tell children that they can say NO to an adult!