On this page you will find a list of some of the feelings and effects survivors often deal with, whether in the direct aftermath of an assault or for many years after sexual abuse.
These lists are not all-inclusive or exhaustive. Everyone reacts to sexual abuse in different ways. We hope the information below will help survivors to understand that the way they feel is normal for someone with their experiences, and that there are people who understand and can help them.
Emotional Shock – I feel numb. How can I be so calm? Why can’t I cry?
Disbelief and/or Denial – Did it really happen? Why me? Maybe I just imagined it. It’s not important.
Embarrassment – What will people think? I can’t tell my family or friends.
Shame– I feel filthy, disgusting, like there’s something wrong with me. I can’t get clean.
Guilt – I feel as if it’s my fault, or I should’ve been able to stop it. If only I had done…
Depression – How am I going to get through the day? I’m so tired! I feel hopeless. What’s the point of going on?
Powerlessness – Will I ever feel in control again?
Disorientation – I don’t even know what day it is, or where I’m supposed to be. I keep forgetting things.
Flashbacks – I’m reliving what happened. I keep seeing, hearing and smelling things that bring it right back and I feel like it’s happening all over again.
Fear – I’m scared of everything. What if I have an STI or HIV? I can’t sleep because I’ll have nightmares. I’m afraid to go out. I’m afraid to be alone.
Anxiety – I’m having panic attacks. I can’t breathe. I can’t stop shaking. I feel overwhelmed.
Anger – I feel like hurting the person who attacked me or lashing out at the world.
Physical Stress – My stomach (or head or back) aches all the time. I feel jittery and don’t want to eat.
Effects of male sexual abuse
The long term consequences of sexual abuse are extremely varied, and again there are no definitive effects that all survivors will experience. The documented effects include, but are not limited to:
- Low self-esteem
- Drug and alcohol addiction
- Borderline personality disorder
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorders
- Post-traumatic reactions
- Poor self perception
- Sexual dysfunction
- Social dysfunction
- Dysfunction of relationships (including parenting)
- Poor education and employment records
- A range of physical symptoms
Negative mental health effects that have been consistently associated in research with child sexual abuse include post-traumatic symptoms1; depression2; substance abuse3; helplessness, negative attributions, aggressive behaviours and conduct problems; eating disorders4; and anxiety5.
More recently child sexual abuse has also been linked to psychotic disorders including schizophrenia and delusional disorder6, as well as personality disorders7. Child sexual abuse involving penetration has, in particular, been identified as a risk factor for developing psychotic and schizophrenic syndromes8.
The symptoms in an individual may be specific or general, episodic or chronic.
The percentage of adults who experienced sexual abuse as children and had long term effects is not known, although in one British study 13% of a sample of such adults we considered to have experienced lasting effects9. In a major review Browne and Finklehor (1986) concluded that approximately 40% of sexually abused children suffer consequences serious enough for them to need therapy in adulthood.
It can be useful to understand the misconceptions that surround survivors – find out more about the myths and realities of male sexual abuse.
1 – Canton-Cortes & Canton, 2010; O’Leary & Gould, 2009; Ullman, Filipas, Townsend, & Starzynski, 2007
2 – Fergusson et al., 2008; Nelson et al., 2002
3 – Lynskey & Fergusson, 1997; O’Leary & Gould, 2009
4 – Jonas et al., 2011
5 – Banyard, Williams, & Siegel, 2001; Nelson et al., 2002
6 – Bendall, Jackson, Hulbert, & McGorry 2011; Lataster et al., 2006; Wurr & Partridge, 1996
7 – Bendall, Jackson, Hulbert, & McGorry 2011; Lataster et al., 2006; Wurr & Partridge, 1996
8 – Bendall, Jackson, Hulbert, & McGorry 2011; Lataster et al., 2006; Wurr & Partridge, 1996
9 – Browne and Finklehor, 1986