• Objectives
  • Introduction
  • Effects of Child Sexual Assault (CSA)
  • Survivors’ Coping Methods


  • To have an awareness of the effect of childhood sexual trauma on the lives of men and women when faced with various life events.
  • To understand the coping mechanisms of those who have been sexually abused as children.


Some believe that it is easy to spot sexually assaulted children because they have a preconceived profile for this population. Unfortunately, according to Darkness to Light (a non-profit organization dedicated to diminishing the incidence and impact of child sexual abuse), evidence that a child has been sexually abused is not always obvious. In addition, many do not report that they have been abused and it is estimated that over 30% of victims never disclose the experience to anyone. Thus, the numbers of reported cases are low estimates for children who have been sexually assaulted.

The Effects of Childhood Sexual Assault

As with domestic violence, childhood sexual assault crosses all boundaries of ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, and religion. Using manipulation, coercion, and fear sexual exploitation of a child by an adult or a child or teen can leave them scarred emotionally, physically, and psychologically. In fact, research has shown that many sexually assaulted children are likely to suffer psychologically and experience post traumatic syndrome into their adult years. According to author Carolyn H. Heggan, “Many working in the field of mental health believe nothing in childhood can so profoundly hinder emotional and spiritual well-being as having been sexually assaulted by someone known and trusted.”1

Two primary effects on survivors of childhood sexual assault are trauma and shame.

Trauma – an experience that produces psychological injury or pain. According to Steven Tracy, adults who have been sexually assaulted during their childhood tend to be plagued by deep-seated feelings and belief of inadequacy and personal failure. Survivors often suffer from trauma that can lead to powerlessness and emotional shutdown fueled by a sense of all-encompassing shame.2

Shame – a deep, painful sense of inadequacy and personal failure, based on the inability to live up to a standard of conduct – one’s own or one imposed by others.3

The survivor may also exhibit other symptoms or conditions that suggest they have been wounded as a child. These can include:
  • Intrusion – reliving traumatic events, awake or asleep
  • Numbing – shutting down of all feelings
  • Relational disconnects with God, spouses, children, families, friends, etc.
  • Fear and/or anxiety
  • Depression
  • Personality disorders
  • Addictions
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Anger and hostility
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Substance abuse
  • Sexual maladjustment
  • Feelings of isolation and stigma
  • Stress

Survivors’ Coping Methods

Because childhood sexual assault is such a difficult thing for survivors to deal with or talk about they often develop varied coping mechanisms. For example, they may use:

  • Suppression – they are aware of what happened but they push it away.
  • Repression – the memory of the act/acts are not accessible.
  • Disassociation – extreme compartmentalizing.
  • Hypersensitivity – tuning into others to predict how they will respond.
  • Control – to make up for lack of control as a child.


1. Heggen, Carolyn H. (2006). Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches. Portland, OR, Wipf and Stock Publishers, p. 27.
2. Tracy, Steven R., Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse. May 1, 2008, Zondervan.
3. Heggen, Carolyn H., Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches. 2006, Wipf and Stock Publishers, p. 27.


1. Heggen, Carolyn H. Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006.
2. VanDerbur, Marilyn. Miss America By Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayals and Unconditional Love, Oak Hills Press, 2004.