The long-term effects of child sexual abuse
Judy Cashmore and Rita Shackel
This paper reviews recent Australian and international research on the long-term effects of child sexual abuse. It aims to assist practitioners and policy-makers who work with survivors of sexual abuse and their families to understand the significant findings from this large and sometimes complex body of research.
Some of the content in this report contains information that may cause distress to some readers.
If you have been affected by child sexual abuse and are distressed, support services are available if you want to talk to someone.
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- Child sexual abuse (CSA) covers a broad range of sexual activities perpetrated against children, mostly by someone known and trusted by the child.
- The research on the longer-term impact of child sexual abuse indicates that there may be a range of negative consequences for mental health and adjustment in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
- Not all victims experience these difficulties - family support and strong peer relationships appear to be important in buffering the impact.
- Recent research indicates that male victims are less likely to disclose their abuse and take longer to do so. Male and female victims may be impacted in different ways.
- It is not straightforward to tease out the effects of child sexual abuse and other adverse experiences in childhood and adulthood (including being victimised again), but more recent rigorous research is better able to do so.
- Aspects of the abuse, including the relationship with the perpetrator and the betrayal of trust, the age and gender of the child, and the particular form of abuse are significant factors.
For consistency and clarity the current paper uses the term "victim" for the childhood experience and "survivor" for the adult experience or impact.
For further information on the definition of child sexual abuse and other child maltreatment subtypes see What is Child Abuse and Neglect?.
Associate Professor Judy Cashmore and Dr Rita Shackel are both at the Sydney Law School, University of Sydney.
The authors wish to thank Dr Daryl Higgins and Rhys Price-Robertson, both from the Australian Institute of Family Studies for their feedback on this paper.
CFCA Paper No. 11
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, January 2013, 28 pp. ISSN 2200-4106 ISBN 978-1-922038-20-3
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