South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence

Psychological effects

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  1. Fear. The offender may swear the child to secrecy and say that if they tell something bad will happen. Sexual abuse is usually accompanied by coercion, bribery or threats. The child is afraid to tell because of what the consequences might be. e.g. punishment, blame, abandonment or not being believed.
  2. Helplessness/powerlessness. Children in this situation often feel that they have no control over their own lives or even over their own bodies. They feel that they have no choices available to them.
  3. Guilt and Shame. The child knows something is wrong and blames him or herself not others. The offender will often encourage the child to feel that the abuse is his or her fault and sometimes s/he will feel that s/he is a "bad" person.
  4. Responsibility. The offender often makes the child feel responsible for keeping the abuse a secret. Sometimes the child also feels responsible for keeping the family together and the burden of this responsibility interferes with experiencing a normal childhood.
  5. Isolation. Incest victims feel different from other children. They must usually be secretive. This even isolates them from non-offending parents and brothers and sisters.
  6. Betrayal. Children feel betrayed because they are dependent upon adults for nurturing and protection and the offender is someone who they should be able to love and trust. They may also feel betrayed by a non-offending parent who they feel has failed to protect them.
  7. Anger. Not surprisingly this is one of the strongest feelings which many children have about their sexual assault. Children may feel anger against the perpetrator and also against others who they feel failed to protect them.
  8. Sadness. Children may feel grief due to a sense of loss, especially if the perpetrator was loved and trusted by the child.
  9. Flashbacks. These can be like nightmares which happen while the child is awake. They are a re-experience of the sexual assault and the child may experience all the feelings a gain which they felt at the time.

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