It is not uncommon for children who are sexually abused to display what Finkelhor and Browne (1985) refer to as traumatic sexualization. Children may begin to exhibit com­pulsive sex play or masturbation and show an inappropriate amount of sexual knowl­edge. When they enter adolescence they may begin to show promiscuous and compul­sive sexual behavior, which may lead to sexually abusing others in adulthood (Valente, 2005). These children have learned that it is through their sexuality that they get at­tention from adults. Children who have been sexually abused are also more vulnerable to revictimization later in life (Valente, 2005).

Children who are sexually abused have been found to experience sexual problems in adulthood. The developmentally inappropriate sexual behaviors that they learned as

ReviewQuestion

Identify and discuss the effects ^of childhood sexual abuse.

children can contribute to a variety of sexual dysfunctions later in life (Najman et al., 2005). Research has found that a large proportion of patients who seek sex therapy have histories of incest, rape, and other forms of sexual abuse (Maltz, 2002).

Eating disorders are also common. Recent research reveals a connection between eating disorders and sexual abuse (Wonderlich et al., 2001). In one study sexually abused children were found to eat less when they were emotionally upset and were more likely than nonabused children to desire a thinner body type (Wonderlich, 2000). The obses­sions about food become all-consuming and may temporarily replace the original trauma of the sexual abuse. When these patients discussed their past sexual abuse, they were of­ten able to make significant changes in their eating patterns.

Children who are sexually abused also commonly develop problems such as drug and alcohol addiction or prostitution. In fact, victims of sexual abuse have been found to have higher rates of alcohol and drug use, even as early as age 10 (Valente, 2005). Finkelhor and Browne (1985) hypothesized that because of the stigma that surrounds the early sexual abuse, the children believe they are “bad,” and the thought of “badness” is incorporated into their self-concept. As a result, they often gravitate toward behaviors that society sees as deviant.

It is not unusual for adults who had been abused as children to confront their of­fenders later in life, especially among those who have undergone some form of counsel­ing or psychotherapy to work through their own feelings about the experience. They may feel a strong need to deal with the experience and often get help to work through it. The accompanying Personal Voices, “Confronting the Incest Offender,” is a letter written by an 18-year-old incest victim to her father. She had been sexually assaulted by him throughout her childhood, and this was the first time that she had confronted him.

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