Child sexual abuse and trauma

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Child sexual abuse and trauma

  • Sexual assault of a child is a crime for which the offender is solely responsible;
  • Sexual assault in childhood can cause serious ongoing social, physiological and emotional difficulties;
  • It can continue to cause distress and create problems in other relationships into adulthood;
  • Sexual assault of children is perpetrated mostly by men, with the intention to create fear and to exert power and control;
  • The effects of sexual abuse in childhood are called trauma.

Understanding childhood sexual assault and its effects

Any act of a sexual nature, any sexual threat, or any exhibition of sexual behaviours, imposed on a child under the age of 16 years is a serious crime.

Those who sexually assault children take advantage of the child’s trust, innocence and vulnerability.

Child sexual assault is committed against both girls and boys. Sexual assault of children happens at an alarming rate. Nearly 15% of Australian adults have experienced some form of sexual assault before the age of 15.

The majority (91%) of sexual assaults against children are perpetrated by someone they know and usually involves grooming and manipulation.

The trauma impacts of sexual assault are the same for children as they are for adults. Sexual assault of children also interrupts a child's social, intellectual and emotional development.

The affects of sexual assault in childhood are trauma based.

Our trauma specialist counsellors can help in coping with the impacts of trauma:

Get in touch:

NSW Rape Crisis
Available 24/7.
Sexual Assault Counselling Australia
For those affected by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Available 24/7.
Online counselling
Online counselling is also available 24/7.

Coping and recovering from childhood sexual assault

Despite how many Australians have experienced sexual assault, it remains something that can be very difficult to talk about.

Sexual assault of a child includes behaviours such as exposing genitals to a child, voyeurism, and creating and viewing child pornography.

Child sexual assault is usually perpetrated by someone known to the child and their family. The offender exploits and betrays their position of power and trust.

Offenders often manipulate the child through a range of behaviours. These can include grooming or conditioning. Later on, they may use violence, force, coercion, threats and tricks to keep their crime secret.

People who sexually assault children and young people often use tactics that make the child or non-offending family members feel responsible.

Even if the child had these feelings, the sexual contact was still unwanted and not OK.

The process of grooming and manipulation used by perpetrators of sexual violence enforces secrecy and shame in children, and makes talking about the violence even more difficult.

Recovery from childhood sexual assault

For some, the childhood experience of violence leads to mental health impacts in adulthood.

It is important to remember that these impacts are a common result of childhood sexual assault. They can be mistaken for a personality disorder, or cause the person to be wrongly told they are defective in some way.

Recovery is possible for anyone who has experienced sexual assault. The process of recovery looks different for every individual. The goal of recovery might be different from person to person.

Coping with trauma

The effects of sexual assault in childhood are different from person to person and there is no right or wrong way to react.

Sexual violence can cause very distressing psychological, emotional, and physical effects.

These effects are different from person to person and there is no right or wrong way to react.

Some of the common effects include:

  • Intrusive thoughts (not being able to stop thinking about something);
  • Self blame or shame;
  • Being frightened;
  • Having nightmares or not being able to sleep;
  • Not wanting to go out;
  • Feeling suicidal or wanting to self harm;
  • Wanting to use drugs or alcohol to numb the pain;
  • Feeling angry, sad or numb.
  • Physical responses to reminders of the violence or threats to safety.

It is possible for anyone who has experienced childhood sexual assault or rape to recover.

Learning more about these effects and how to cope with and manage them is an important step in recovery.

We all develop methods of coping with stress and trauma. But some ways of coping or avoiding thoughts and feelings arising out of trauma can create more problems.

Working out some ways to manage these experiences can help. An effective coping strategy can help prevent someone becoming overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts, emotions or physical responses.

Each person is different and the right coping strategy for them depends on their personality, their usual coping style, whether they've had other experiences of trauma, the support they have available to them, and plenty more.

Find out more about how to cope with the impacts of trauma here: