Information for Professionals

Common impacts of Sexual Abuse in children


Immediate Symptoms

Shock, numbness, confusion, shaking, feeling panicky and rapid breathing, nausea, being on alert all the time, anger, changes in sleeping/nightmares, not feeling safe, thinking it’s going to happen again, changes in appetite, feeling out of control, feeling dirty, disbelief, self-blame, guilt, physical injuries or medical worries, feeling disconnected (like you’re in a dream, like it’s not really happening to you), flashbacks, difficulty concentrating.

Signs and symptoms of sexual abuse are not always easy to identify and all children vary in their reactions. Although there may be some obvious physical effects, the less obvious psychological ones are also worth understanding. An addition to the effects and responses listed above; there are others that specifically relate to children. 


They include:

Children’s self-esteem is undoubtedly affected by sexual abuse. 

They can develop a negative image of themselves and/or having low self-worth. Children who are sexually abused often blame themselves. 

This belief is planted and encouraged by the offenders as it helps to ensure the victims don’t tell anyone about the sexual abuse.

Children who experience sexual abuse often lose their trust in adults and feel powerless.

They frequently experience sadness, anger, feelings of isolation, problems with trusting people and difficulties in building or maintaining safe and healthy relationships.

Children who experience sexual abuse may find it difficult to concentrate at school. 

They can be anxious, depressed, hostile/self-destructive behaviour's or may behave sexually inappropriate.

Another possible impact for children is that they may regress to a seemingly younger age that may bring about sleep problems, bed-wetting or clinginess

Behaviour you may see in a child or adolescent

Signs more typical of younger children


Signs more typical in adolescents

What are common reactions of family to the discovery of the abusive behaviour?

"Families frequently react with shock, disbelief and confusion followed by intense feelings of shame, anger, guilt and depression. This is exacerbated when the victim and the abuser are living within the same family"


Impact of removal from home

Professionals supporting the young person and the family need to remain mindful of the emotional and social difficulties associated with removal from home. Common reactions include: