Sexual abuse interrupts the developmental phase of a child Via Tehelka

What are the nuances of sexual abuse that determine its long term effects?
The effect of sexual abuse on children depends on the age at which the child was abused, who the abuser is, the frequency and severity of the abuse. The more closely a child is related to the abuser, greater the impact of the abuse. It depends on whether the child was living with the abuse in silence or whether it was disclosed. It also depends upon how the disclosure was met. Whether there was belief or disbelief. All these factors determine how the child grows up with the abuse and the meaning he/she gives to it and the way it will impact him/her.

What is the effect of sexual abuse on the development of a child?
When a child is sexualised at a stage where he/she is not physically or mentally ready for sex, it interrupts every subsequent developmental phase that a child goes through. Children start learning several things about themselves at a very young age. For example, building a perception about themselves and those around them. They learn who to trust and who not to trust over a period of time. So all these things that a child learns, gets hampered.

The message that the abuse gives to the child is that he/she is dirty or that something is wrong with him/her. The child starts developing feelings of being powerless and worthless and picks up feelings of guilt and shame. This is also what the abuser tells the child or implies silently in furtiveness. These messages get ingrained in the child’s mind and start affecting all the decisions the child makes. Sexual abuse is about taking away power from the child, it is about using the child’s body at the abuser’s will, it is about taking away the choice of consent. So, it takes away the natural sexual and overall development of the child.

Every aspect of the child’s life is governed by thoughts of “I am not good enough”. They are unable to assess risk situations. The sense of boundaries also gets completely violated and they are prone to be taken advantage of throughout their lives. So the effects of sexual abuse permeate into their everyday functioning. First, as a victim and then as a survivor. Survivors could be as old as 30 and yet, may not know what is abusive. They often start believing that relationships are about abuse.

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