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Child sexual abuse affects victim’s brain and ‘neurological scars’ can hit next generation

Child sexual abuse affects victim’s brain and ‘neurological scars’ can hit next generation

Published:30 November 2017

CQUni Perth academic Dr Marika Guggisberg is affiliated with the Queensland Centre for Domestic & Family Violence Research.

A fresh look at neurobiological research shoots down any remaining myths that adult-child sex could be less harmful than claimed.

CQUniversity’s Dr Marika Guggisberg says that science has started to establish links between so-called ‘adult-child sex’ and neurological impact, physical diseases, and biological processes relevant to mental health and physical health outcomes.

Negative impacts can include reduced brain volumes, adverse brain structures, impaired neurocognitive functioning, altered biological stress systems, and compromised immune systems.

Recent epigenetic findings unmistakably confirm that child sexual abuse has an intergenerational impact through affected gene expressions.

“There can be functionally relevant modifications to the genome,” Dr Guggisberg says.

“Epigenetic pathways affecting childhood development, health and behavioural outcomes can be passed from the mother to the third generation.”

The researcher has found that the neurobiological and neuropsychological impacts of victimisation have been found to be extensive – and even worse when the abuser is a close relative or father of the child.

She says the physical health impact of child sexual abuse can include genito-pelvic pain, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.

Mental health impacts can include chronic stress, reduced emotional intelligence, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and unstable relationships with future partners.

Behavioural impacts can include alcohol and other drug problems, sexual behaviour problems, and overeating leading to obesity.

All is not lost though as Dr Guggisberg says that early intervention therapies have the chance of reversing and even mending the health of victims and future generations.