Child Sexual Abuse and PTSD


Many child sex abuse survivors show symptoms of PTSD. Depending on the severity of the assault, their relationship with the perpetrator, physical proximity of the victim to the abuser and a few other factors, sex abuse survivors usually display some form of PTSD(Macht & Reagan, 2017).

Most abusers are known to the child or adult victim. The perpetrator forces their control and power upon the victim, instilling fear into their victims heart. If the abuse is ongoing, the victim is controlled by fear and is not able to get help or move forward. This ongoing trauma causes the victim’s brain to constantly be in alert mode, releasing chemicals caused by stress which further harms the brain. This constant state of stress hinders the development of the brain fully(Macht & Reagan, 2017).

A sexual abuse survivor needs immediate care and help. If that help is not provided, the child who doesn’t know how to care for themselves will try and deal with it by suppressing their emotions, rebelling and acting out. It is simply a sign of a deeper issue (Kempe, 1978). Sexual abuse affects the anterior cingulate cortex, which is a part of the brain, and alters one’s emotional processing ability (Rinne-Albers et al., 2017).

Some of the symptoms of PTSD are nightmares, fear, flashbacks, anxiety, triggers like smell, taste, hearing, sight, sleeplessness, lack of concentration, hypersensitivity or hyperactivity, fidgety, getting startled, not being able to convey proper emotions, lack of trust, afraid of certain places, forgetfulness, causing bodily harm to suppress the pain, getting into addictive behaviour, daydreaming (Gibbs et al., 1990). These are just some of the symptoms that I personally experienced for years apart from several other physical and mental disabilities and illnesses. I went through several years of healing in my mind, emotions, heart and body. So there is hope.

We unfortunately live in a world where evil is alive. Although our justice system tries to enforce the laws of the land, it is not perfect and it is not always possible to get rid of all the evil hearts that love to hurt children, women and the vulnerable. It is the responsibility of the parents to take care of the emotional needs of their children, guide and regulate the feeling, emotions and behaviors of their children. Since our society is breaking from within its very foundation, which is the family unit, how do we expect a change in the staggering prevalence of sexual abuse? When parents are choosing to have children only to leave them and be taken over by strangers who have no compassion, how will we not continue to see more and more brokenness among our children, and how will we not continue to see a rise in the number of predators and child sexual abuse?

The effects of child sexual abuse or adult sexual abuse lasts long into adulthood, and it depends on the length of abuse, the relationship of the abuser to the victim and if there was the use of force and penetration(Beitchman et al., 1992). But it can also be through the trauma that a person learns resilience and harness the courage to fight. I have talked to families warning them about possible future sexual abuse, and they have responded by ignoring my warning and assuring me that such abuse could not occur in their well-knit family unit. Later when the abuse did happen they were then interested in knowing more about the issue and also fighting for the cause.

We don’t have to wait till the abuse happens. It is a healthy practice to teach children appropriate and inappropriate touch and what parts of their body is out of bounds for people to touch. It is important to teach them that it is not their fault and they will be trusted if they confide to an adult (Kenny, Capri, Ryan, & Runyon, 2008).

Beitchman, J. H., Zucker, K. J., Hood, J. E., DaCosta, G. A., Akman, D., & Cassavia, E. (1992). A review of the long-term effects of child sexual abuse doi://
Gibbs, R. N., Hatch, E., Holohan, D., McCarthy, A. M., Millikan, J., Niziolek, C., . . . Peterson, S. (1990). Dissociative symptoms in relation to childhood physical and sexual abuse.
Kempe, C. H. (1978). Sexual abuse, another hidden pediatric problem: The 1977 C. anderson aldrich lecture. Pediatrics, 62(3), 382-389.
Kenny, M. C., Capri, V., Ryan, E. E., & Runyon, M. K. (2008). Child sexual abuse: From prevention to self‐protection. Child Abuse Review, 17(1), 36-54.
Macht, V. A., & Reagan, L. P. (2017). Chronic stress from adolescence to aging in the prefrontal cortex: A neuroimmune perspective. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, doi:S0091-3022(17)30087-0 [pii]
Rinne-Albers, M. A., Pannekoek, J. N., van Hoof, M. J., van Lang, N. D., Lamers-Winkelman, F., Rombouts, S. A., . . . Vermeiren, R. R. (2017). Anterior cingulate cortex grey matter volume abnormalities in adolescents with PTSD after childhood sexual abuse. European Neuropsychopharmacology : The Journal of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 27(11), 1163-1171. doi:S0924-977X(17)30899-4 [pii]