In the short term, young people who are victims of sexual violence may suffer major emotional, psychological and physical health problems. Severe after-effects may also appear in many areas, including interpersonal functioning and adaptation, emotional regulation, cognition, memory, neurological functions, mood, behaviour, attention, attachment and impulse control.
Emotional and mental health problems
Young people who are sexual assault victims are at significantly higher risk of showing:
- symptoms of post-traumatic stress (nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance behaviours, hypervigilance);
- symptoms of anxiety (fear, nervousness, hypersensitivity);
- symptoms of depression (bad mood, negative self-assessment, difficulty experiencing pleasure);
- aggressive behaviours (disrespect, opposition, lying, theft, unjustified verbally or physically aggressive acts towards others, bullying);
- suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts;
- self-mutilation behaviours (cutting, severe scratching, burning);
- and symptoms of dissociation and depersonalization (feeling of being detached from reality or disconnected from the body).
Young people exposed to this type of violence are more likely to have poor marks at school and to drop out of school.
Young people with a history of experiencing sexual violence more often engage in risky behaviours, such as:
- substance abuse;
- multiple sexual partners (which increases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases);
- engaging in “survival sex” (for housing, money, clothing, transportation);
- violence in their relationships;
- running away (nearly twice as likely).
Young people who are victims of sexual violence are at a higher risk of teen pregnancy:
- girls who have been sexually assaulted are 2.2 times more likely than their peers to become teen mothers,
- boys who have been sexually assaulted are more likely than their peers to get a girl pregnant.
Young people who are victims of sexual violence are at higher risk of showing a series of physical health problems, including obesity, gastrointestinal troubles, cardiopulmonary symptoms, diabetes and gynecological problems.
These consequences may lead to major disruptions in young people’s development and often have long-term impacts, which can in turn lead to significant dysfunction and distress when they reach adulthood.