The long-term effects of child sexual abuse

The long-term effects of child sexual abuse

Judith Cashmore and Rita Shackel

CFCA Paper No. 11 — January 2013
The long-term effects of child sexual abuse

This paper reviews recent Australian and international research on the long-term effects of child sexual abuse. It aims to assist practitioners and policy-makers who work with survivors of sexual abuse and their families to understand the significant findings from this large and sometimes complex body of research.


For consistency and clarity the current paper uses the term "victim" for the childhood experience and "survivor" for the adult experience or impact.

For further information on the definition of child sexual abuse and other child maltreatment subtypes see What is Child Abuse and Neglect?.

Please note

Some of the content in this report contains information that may cause distress to some readers.

If you have been affected by child sexual abuse and are distressed, support services are available if you want to talk to someone.

Key messages

Child sexual abuse (CSA) covers a broad range of sexual activities perpetrated against children, mostly by someone known and trusted by the child.

The research on the longer-term impact of child sexual abuse indicates that there may be a range of negative consequences for mental health and adjustment in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

Not all victims experience these difficulties - family support and strong peer relationships appear to be important in buffering the impact.

Recent research indicates that male victims are less likely to disclose their abuse and take longer to do so. Male and female victims may be impacted in different ways.

It is not straightforward to tease out the effects of child sexual abuse and other adverse experiences in childhood and adulthood (including being victimised again), but more recent rigorous research is better able to do so.

Aspects of the abuse, including the relationship with the perpetrator and the betrayal of trust, the age and gender of the child, and the particular form of abuse are significant factors.


Judith Cashmore

Associate Professor Judith Cashmore AO has a PhD in developmental psychology and a Masters degree in education. Her research concerns children's involvement in civil and criminal proceedings and other processes in which decisions are made about children's lives. The special focus of this research has been on children's experience and perceptions of the process and the implications for social policy. She has worked as a consultant to various government agencies and been involved in numerous state and federal government committees concerning children and families. Judy has been an appointed Member of the Judicial Commission of New South Wales since 2004 and is Adjunct Professor at Southern Cross University. She and her colleague and co-researcher, Professor Patrick Parkinson AM, have been jointly awarded the 2013 Stanley Cohen Distinguished Research Award by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) for outstanding research and/or research achievements in the field of family and divorce.

Rita Shackel


Associate Professor Judy Cashmore and Dr Rita Shackel are both at the Sydney Law School, University of Sydney.

The authors wish to thank Dr Daryl Higgins and Rhys Price-Robertson, both from the Australian Institute of Family Studies for their feedback on this paper.

Publication details

CFCA Paper
No. 11
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, January 2013.
28 pp.

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