Childhood Sexual Abuse: How the past affects the present

Written by Barbara Wilson

Rough estimates put one in three girls and one in six boys in the US at risk for being sexually abused. But exact figures are hard to assess because most children delay reporting their abuse until later in adulthood or never report it at all. Many of the women I’ve led through healing were not believed when they did report it, or worse, they were punished for sharing the family secret.

This is a difficult topic to write about and a hard topic to read as well. The thought of anyone using a child to gratify their own perverse sexual desires is an incomprehensible evil. It is an evil that has disgraced, destroyed and devalued the human race. But it’s real. It happens and the numbers of those affected by it are growing. Maybe it has happened to you.

Some of the questions I’ll attempt to address in this series are:

  • How do you know if you were sexually abused as a child?
  • If you were abused, how do you know if it’s still impacting you today?
  • How do I know if I need healing?
  • Why do I struggle with sexual intimacy?

I understand that you may want to stop reading at this point. If you have memories of sexual abuse, it can be painful to revisit those memories and the emotions associated with them. Or maybe, you are one that has no memory, but you have a ‘feeling’ that you were abused. You occasionally get an image of an event, a person, or of yourself in an uncomfortable situation and you wonder. Perhaps there is someone in your past that causes negative emotions to surface whenever you think of them or have to be around them. Again you wonder, but don’t know for sure.  Maybe you don’t want to know.

If so, I understand. What you’re feeling is typical. You’ve survived until now by shoving the abuse, the memories, that ‘wondering feeling’ deep down so that you could get on with your life.  Or you have minimized the abuse you do remember by saying, “it really was not that big of a deal”.  But lately it has been surfacing unexpectedly. You’re no longer able to keep it buried. It’s having an impact on your dreams, your marriage, your parenting, your ability to trust and to be intimate. Perhaps you need answers to questions like, “Am I this way because of what happened to me as a child?”

But there may be another reason you’d rather not keep reading. Shame. The shame that whispers, “You’re to blame. You didn’t say no. You asked for it. You wanted it. You allowed it to continue. It’s. All. Your. Fault!” I’ve led hundreds of women through sexual healing, and more than half of them experienced some form of sexual abuse or trauma, as in rape. And every single one of them had at some point believed that they were to blame.

It’s a lie, a horrible, evil lie! You were not to blame. It is not your fault. You were a child. Children have no sexual desire, unless that sexual desire is awakened against their will. I’m praying for you. Praying that you won’t let the shame, fear or the lies keep you from claiming the truth. God’s truth is this: you are not alone. It wasn’t your fault. You can be healed. There is hope.

For further reading in this series:

How do I know if I’ve been sexually abused?
Why do I feel this way?
How do I know if I need healing?
Why do I struggle with sexual intimacy?
How can I heal from my sexual past? 

Would you like to talk to a mentor? Just use this form and you’ll get a personal, private response from your mentor, usually within a couple of days. Can we pray for you?

Recommended Reading:

Beauty for Ashes by Joyce Meyer
 On The Threshold of Hope by:  Diane Langberg
The Wounded HeartHope For Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by:  Dan Allender
List of Barbara’s Books  Barbara covers many issues in her books including Sexual Abuse and much more.  Titles include:  Break Free From Your Sexual Past, Invisible Bond, Kiss Me Again: Restoring Lost Intimacy in Marriage



232 Responses to “Childhood Sexual Abuse: How the past affects the present”

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    You are so right that God can heal our brokenness like no one else can. As we draw near to Him, He takes our broken pieces and makes something beautiful out of it. I think that is why I love the verse in Joel2:25 where it says that He redeems the years that the locusts have eaten. In other words He takes what seems devastating and uses it to make something beautiful. We may forever walk with a limp but we have great understanding for the pain that people go through.

  • anonymous says:

    @trying to understand. I was sexually molested when I was a child and suffered from frequent sexual advancement of many men around me. But nothing is more helpful than nurturing your Christian Faith. It has helped me healed myself completely. Your wife needs to have the will and the desire to nurture her faith. Spiritual healing is the most effective remedy to heal a broken heart and a broken soul. Hope this helps. May God Bless your family.

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    I think that the advice that you gave to Christina is good advice for yourself as well…to raise it with those you trust, perhaps your mother or your older brother and sister to see what they remember as well as talking to a professional about it as well. It sounds like there was definitely something going on that shouldn’t have been. As I mentioned in my comment above, if you’re not sure how to get in touch with a counselor RAINN has a free hotline and online counseling available: 1.800.656.HOPE(4673) (RAINN is the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. They do good work.)They might be a really good place for you start. They have people you can talk to by phone or online.

  • Unsure says:

    Firstly, Christina, yes, that was sexually abusive of your brother. He clearly took advantage. How old was he at the time? I’m really sorry. I would definitely raise it with those you trust and talk to a professional about it.

    I have my own dilemma and I too am unsure if I was abused. My parents divorced when I was 5 and for 2 years I went to my father’s house for visits at weekends. Between the ages of 5 and 7 I remember him coming to the toilet with me and locking the door. My older brother and sister sometimes banged on the door and he would really shout at them to go away. After I’d been to the toilet he would have me lie down on the floor and he’d hold my legs up like a baby having its nappy changed. Then he’d touch all around there with his bare hands. I remember lying there for quite some time. Once I remember him telling me I was sore there but I wasn’t. Unfortunately this is all I remember. He used to also lock the door when he’d put me to bed and my older sister says they weren’t allowed near the bedroom at that time as it was our “private time”. Sometimes he did get into bed with me, but I have no recollection of being touched in the bed.

    Please, if anyone has any input on this I’d be so grateful. It’s kind of driving me crazy, especially as the man has recently got back in touch after having not heard from him since childhood.

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    It saddens my heart as a mother and grandmother that so many of you were in fact sexually abused as children and are now dealing with it as adults. Get some help! NOW! This isn’t something that you can easily move past on your own, but you can get healing and move on.

    To start with, please take the time to read all of the articles by this author, Barbara Wilson. She has many great tips…you can start here, You can also check out the books written by Barbara Wilson–the author of this article–I know you will find them a real help in your journey of healing. Go to her website to order her books and find other resources that she makes available there. I know you will be helped by what she has to say.

    Secondly, get some professional help, please.If you’re not sure how to get in touch with a counselor RAINN has a free hotline and online counseling available: 1.800.656.HOPE(4673) (RAINN is the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. They do good work.)They might be a really good place for you start. They have people you can talk to by phone or online. If you talk to them online, do it from a computer that won’t be accessed by your family.

    All of you can find healing but you have to start by talking to someone and dealing with what happened.

  • Joel says:

    I’m not even sure about this – if its actual memory or completely fictional, but my brother and I had ‘sex’ when I was about 7, and he was 9. I didn’t know what it was, for sure, but we tried to penetrate and that’s all I “remember”, a very vivid recollection.Then maybe a year or so later, maybe 2, I myself was caught with a younger family friend, playing a game about family and we were naked in bed moving on top of each other,but again we both had no idea what we were doing. I feel terrible about this because I may have scarred a little boy after having the same done to me a mere 2 years before! I know stuff like this can happen, but it is still messed up.. And I’ve never talked about either experience since.. I doubt my brother even remembers, or the other kid..

  • thomas says:

    Honestly i just dont know what to do anymore and its eating me alive, i just dont understand why i cant move on and why i hurt so much its been 21 years like get over it.

  • thomas says:

    I am a 26 year old man and was molested by my babysitter who was a man and still to this day i cant get the damn book out of my head that he read to me before he took apart of me with him, i feel so ashamed about it, i feel as if i let him do this to me and that i should have stopped him even though i was 5 years old i feel worthless sometimes suicidal, i have trust issues, i get hurt in relationships too often kind of feel hopeless somedays, diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder since i was young,and happiness seems to evade me constantly, i just want to be happy for one day, not dread waking up for work,and i turned to drugs and booze and thats set me back even farther, its hard to talk to anyone about because i feel weak when bring back the emotions , i know im not gay but it still bothers me that i might become gay, no ffense to gay people but its something ive been fighting even though i have no attraction to other men, i just want to fall in love with a good woman and move on but i feel like im losing hold of my being, i just want feel more love for myself because its wearing out my family and i feel like if i dont figure it out soon im not sure how long i can live like this i literally hate myself and i want a change of life

  • james kirkman says:

    I think I was 10 when it first started, he must of been about 30 it started of by watching porn at his house then It got to me consecutively asking to see his cock, I was 10 I did not no it was wrong because I was a child it lead to him [expletive removed] me in thearse and wanking him of for weed I guess I let it continue coz I needed the drugs this happened for 6 and a bit years im now 17 my life is falling apart and im not sure what to do I want to tell someone but I feel as if it would make it worse coz I dont want to want peopke to no what happened, I dont no what to do anymore I still go to his hous(I just use him for weed now) I feel in a way sorry for him but I no I shouldnt coz hes ruined my childhood life and its still affecting me now after its stopped he says its not all his fault, but how could it be mine because I was just a child that didnt no it was wrong, I assume what im feeling now is deppression I havnt been out for 6months I dont no why maybe its becayse of what happened please help me

  • kayleigh says:

    I’m not sure if I was sexual Ly abused as a child or not. I have two reoccurring memories, the 1st one I remember is my parents sitting me down when I was about 6 years old asking me “who took naked pictures of me” I don’t remember anything else about that. The other memory is of a man coming into my room at night and kissing my neck. I was about 4 years old. I honestly don’t want to ask my parents about these..but these memories are becoming more and more frequent. I am 27 years old now.

  • This is not normal says:

    I was 13 and raped by my almost 18 year old cousin. I never told anyone till 6 months later. After a 23 year old close family friend tried sending me pictures and I confided in him. I’m not 17, I graduated earlu, went to counseling for nearly a year, had a long term boyfriend of over a year who just left me 3 weeks ago. I feel like I’m crazy, I feel alone. I feel lost. He made me have sex with him when I didn’t want to, and I let him. After I promised myself no one would ever take advantage of me again. I’m so weak… I hate myself I hate men, I hate sex offenders, I’m angry all the time. My cousin never went to jail because I lied, I said he never entered, but he he did, and I said stop. But he didnt. He’s still out there, he has kids now. I feel so wrong and weak.why can no one help me.

  • Shelley Shelley says:

    Dear Father God.

    Lord I lift up my 2 sisters to you at this time, that You will heal them of childhood sexual abuse, in Jesus name Amen

  • Many-Lane says:

    I was sexually abused at a young age ( starting around age 6 to 9 ). I forgot this, but it came up later. My eldest brother made me give him a bj. I was so confused at the time. Then later in life, my father molested me. He did for quite sometime. It did more damage than I had originally thought. Even if you don’t feel it, its still there. I always wore layers never showing skin and acted as well as dressed more masculine.

    Just over 3 years ago, I finally brought my open case to court to close it along with DVDs with child pornography that he had and he had tons. Even with overwhelming evidence, my grandparents still think I am coached. I am so angry and hurt. They want to lesson his sentence. They think he is innocent. I just am so hurt. I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried talking to them, at first being subtle and polite, then being blunt. They somewhat believe me, but more so, they don’t.

  • lost my child hood says:

    My mom and dad split up when i was in 2nd grade. In 3rd gtade she got a boyfriend and he started to live with us. He then started molesting me till almost the end of 7th grade. My childhood is ruined and im a sex addict and im only 15. I always think about having a baby to fill my lost space .. i feel so lonley that i think a child will help. Thaan i realize what 15 year old would be able to take care of me and my baby. So then i atart to want to have a baby with someone who could as in 20-22 year olds.. i need councling but i dont want to have to face the fact that im half crazy. The man took all my hopes and dreams away and now im out of control.

  • Shelley Shelley says:

    Dear Father God.

    Lord God i pray for my sisters and whoever is going through or have gone through sexual abuse in there lives, that You will comfort them and heal them of the past, that you said that is would be thrown into the sea. i know it still hurt, but give it to Jesus and He will heal you.

  • May says:

    I don’t remember most of it, but my biological sister touched me in ways. We had to be separated because of it. I remember parts of it, but otherwise my memory is hazy. Is my memory affected by those events? But anyway, I can’t be touched at all anymore. I flinch away and I get incredibly anxious when I feel like people are looking at me. Every day, I wear baggy clothes and I make sure to always have a sweatshirt on, even in 90 degree weather. I can’t look people in the eyes and I can’t stick up for myself anymore. I used to be so confident, and then she just…ripped that away from me. I can’t do anything anymore. I probably sound really dramatic and I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be. But back on track, I’m overweight now and I don’t have the cleanest face. Part of me wants to get cleaned up and just look nice for once, but the other part of me keeps rejecting that idea. I think it’s because my mind is set on the idea that if I’m ugly, nobody will touch me and I’ll be safe. I hate it but I can’t change it. I hate who I am, because I don’t even know myself anymore to be honest. Like I said, I used to be confident and I was my own self. But after that event, I just started picking up on other people’s personalities. If I liked something about them, I tried to have it as mine. I adapted to several different parts of many personalities from people I’ve met until I’ve made myself a person who can be anything but me. I also try and adapt my personality around people that I want to be friends with so that we can get along. If they’re difficult, I change my attitude to make it so I’m compliant and positive. If they’re negative, I change so that I’m sympathetic yet helpful. I get so tired of changing who I am just because I’m too afraid to be the me that got sexually abused. I talk a lot and I get annoying, I know. Sorry, I’m not trying to be. I just want to know if there’s something I can do to fix this?

  • Jennifer says:


    I have a question for you because I am not sure. When I was twelve years old my father died and my mom became a single mother of three girls including myself. I am the oldest so naturally I took I. The role of my father and worried about my sisters the way a parent would. My mother NEVER sat down with us and initiated any conversation about what happened or asked us how we were doing! In addition there was a seventeen year old across the street who would come over and hang out with us outside. I don’t remember exactly how it started but I do remember him bringing me to the side of our house and kissing me and putting his hands down my pants. I do remember feeling like I was helpless but never told him to stop. Then other days he would come over and ring the door bell and ask for me and my mom would call out for me to come to the door. I would say that I had to clean because I felt uncomfortable about it and so I felt like I had to come up with excuses as to why I couldn’t hang out with him! I told my mother that he kissed me and in fact she knew because when I came in it was written all over my face! I told her at 39 that he touched me too! She told me that it wasn’t abuse and that I got into relationships before I was mature enough to be in them. I just need to know if I was abused or not because I’m confused?
    Thank you,

  • Shelley Shelley says:

    Dear Father God.

    Lord I lift up all children who have been sexually abused in there life time that You will comfort and heal them in jesus Name amen

  • gary morehead says:

    anger is a righteuose anger get my shot 12

  • Claire Colvin Claire Colvin says:

    Hi pleasehelp,

    I am so sorry to hear about what you have been through. How awful. The first thing to consider in your current situation is your safety. You need to keep yourself safe. You won’t be living with your parents forever, things will change but for now, safety first.

    I cannot imagine how hard it would be to have your family tell you that you’re supposed to love your brother and be close to him when you know what happened. Have you ever had a chance to see a counsellor and talk about your situation? There’s an organization called RAINN – the rape, abuse and incest national network. They might be a really good place for you start. They have people you can talk to by phone or online. If you talk to them online, do it from a computer that won’t be accessed by your family. In time you are probably going to need to tell your family what your brother did, however you need to do that in a safe way. A counsellor can help with that, he or she might even be able to be with you when you tell them. It’s hard to predict how a family would react to news like that. That’s why I keep mentioning safety. Some families get angry at the person who tells the truth so make sure you have some support and a solid plan before you jump into a conversation like that.

    You may find it helps to deal with one issue at a time. If you start working through what your brother did to you it may help you heal so that you’re stronger to deal with everything else. I do not believe that you will be alone forever. I know that things are hard right now. You are strong, you can do this. The first step is getting some support. The Trevor Project might also have some of the information you’re looking for.

  • pleasehelp says:

    Sorry for putting all that on here I just don’t know where else to vent.

  • pleasehelp says:

    Please need advice. I have a older brother almost six years older than me. When I was around 8-9 he use to make me do stuffto him iI would be crying and if I didn’t would slap my face and threaten to beat me up. Now I’m older mid twenties it has effected me so much I cannot stand to be around him and my parents always say your not supposed to hate your brother they want us to be close. By the way I never told anyone at ALL!! And I’m gay I do t want to admit it I don’t want to be but its not my choice. I turned so hard to be normal with females but not working out. Also my family thinks you choose to be gay not born that way they on many occasions talk about gay faggot this and faggot that its eating at me so much so scared and confused soooo ALONE!! I have heard my parents talk to their friends saying if I ever had a faggot kid I would disown it. My apartment got robbed twice in two months and lost my job. So I had to move in with my parents so they are pretty much supporting me right now. Everyone of my cousins,aunties,uncles and friends all hate gay people. Im starting to thing for my whole life I am going to be in the closet UNHAPPY FOREVER!!!!!!! So sad and unhappy. Just want to be me but being me will destroy my life also the light at the end of the tunnel is closed and the hell life starts :( alone forever not how I seen my life going when I was younger.

  • pleasehelp says:

    Hi everyone god bless

  • annouk says:

    @tryingtounderstand.. iv just found out my partnet who is male was abused as a child.. he is just starting to deal with now & is hating women he has pushed me away to the point of sepeseperate rooms and is always out.. i feel linely and confused and helpless… is.there anything i can do too help him.. love yo hear from ppl who have been in similar situations and their advice.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Go ahead and post your comments Mary as long as they are in line with our terms of use

  • mary says:

    I wanted to comment to the girl that is now 15.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Christina, I think talking to your parents is a good idea. Keeping things a secret only increases the power the hurt has over you. By talking through it you can begin to find healing from the pain and anger you are feeling.

    If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your parents you can also talk about it with a pastor, a teacher or a counsellor at school. Find some adult you trust and ask for their help. It will make a big difference.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Trying to Understand, there are a number of books listed at the end of this article that have been helpful for a lot of people to find healing from past abuse. I would definitely recommend reading some of those.

    Many of those books describe how the authors have found healing from the damage of childhood abuse through a relationship with Jesus. Jesus promised to give rest to those who are weary and weighed down by the hurts of life. I know that Jesus can bring healing to your wife’s heart as well.

  • susan schmeltzly says:

    i to am a survivor i child molesting that was done by my father. It is hard to get over because of the trust issue and the fact that her childhood was stolen from her by someone who was supposed to protect her. One step is she has to stop blaming
    herself for what happened. It wasn’t her fault and make sure her therapist works for her cause not all therapist are good for you. I had a great one. Always get good mental help to cope with problem dealing with this you are not alone unfortunately its true it happens more than you think. Your wife needs to talk about it and antidepressants aren’t really the answer she has to get good concealing to feel better about herself i didn’t for time being some meds wouldn’t help a little but a good councilor to make her feel whole about herself and a better person she is a winner and you also have to be there to support her.

  • christina says:

    When I was younger every time I would leave the bathroom my older brother would always ask me if I wiped myself right and I would say yeah he would say let me check you I would let him because he was my older brother and I thought I was spose to listen to my elders and tell me to bend over and close my eyes so that’s what I did. Once I turned around and he penis was out sometimes I would feel something tapping my skin while my pants were off and I was about 6/7 when this happened it happened I believe two to four times I’ve always remembered this I’m scared to say something like nobody gonna believe me or everyone is going to hate me my question is was that sexual abuse? Should I say something? I’m fifteen years old now and I feel like this memory is sending me into a very angry place. Plus I think I have bipolar disorder I just took a test and I have very severe symptoms I just feel so alone please someone answer my questions.

  • christina says:

    I’m a fifteen year old girl and need to know if I was sexually abused When I was about 6/7/8 one of those and I remember coming out of the bathroom and my older brother would ask me if I wiped myself right I was say yeah he would say let me check you I would let him because I thought needed to listen to my elders he would tell me bend over and close my eyes that what I would do once I turned around and his pant was off I would feel like tapping on my but in between.i would wait till he was done and nothing was never talked about this happened about two to four times. I just never understood why I remember that and I’m afraid nobody gonna believe me I’m scared that I’m never gonna be able to trust anybody I just wanna know was that sexual abuse and should I say something I just feel there’s no point if nobody gonna care or believe me please I need an answer.

  • I’m trying to help my wife deal with what happened to her as child . she was molested for 11 years by her grand father . she has been to counseling twice , took several different anti depressants and been going to mental health for 4 years now and none of this seems to be working . what else can we do ?

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