Impact on Family Members

The impact of abuse on non-offending family members and friends (secondary victims?) has not been studied very extensively. Most of what is available is focused on partners of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. And most of that is about ‘how you can help the abused person’ rather than about ‘how you can work more productively on your own trauma’.

What is clear is that the impact of abuse on relationships is huge — both in the present and later in life. The exact nature of that impact will vary widely from person to person. The experience of spouses and others will, as a consequence, also vary widely.

Spouses of Abused Persons

Some of the concerns most frequently expressed by male partners of female sexual abuse survivors are:

  • Conflicting needs. How can I make room for my needs when her needs are so overwhelming?
  • Emotional closeness. How can we be close when the closeness increases her anxiety?
  • Change. This isn’t the women I married. What happened?
  • Decreased spontaneity. I’m walking on egg shells all the time. Why can’t we just relax?
  • Grief. I’m losing things I do not want to lose. How big will the losses be?
  • Fear. How long will this take? is it even possible? Will our relationship survive?
  • Shame. I am not able to protect the person I love from whatever it is that is going on. I feel impotent.
  • Sexual losses. Will this get better? How do I navigate all the changes that are taking place?
  • Confusion. I didn’t do this. . . why must I suffer?

Spouses must also deal with some common forms of stigma associated with their situation. If you feel a deep desire to be helpful to your spouse, some will say you are codependent and need to work on our own issues. If you miss not having sex, some will say you are probably a sex addict. If you are traumatized in the present, some will say you are ignoring your real trauma which is in the past. And some will say stupid things like “abused people unconsciously marry their abusers.”

Books for spouses of sexual abuse survivors

  • Clark E. Barshinger, Lojan E. LA Rowe, Andres T. Tapia.Haunted Marriage: Overcoming the Ghosts of Your Spouse’s Childhood Abuse(InterVarsity Press, 1995) ISBN: 0830816461
  • Laura Davis, Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Was Sexually Abused as a Child (Perennial, 1991) ISBN: 0060968834
  • Grant Cameron, What About Me? A Guide for Men Helping Female Partners Deal with Childhood Sexual Abuse (Creative Bound, 1994) ISBN: 0921165382
  • Eliana Gil, Outgrowing the Pain Together: A Book for Spouses & Partners of Adults Abused as Children.(New York: Dell Trade Publishing, Inc. 1992)
  • Susan Brewster,To Be an Anchor in the Storm : A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women. (New York: Ballantine Books, Inc. 1997)
  • Dorothy Landry,Family Fallout: A Handbook for Families of Adult Sexual Abuse Survivors. Safer Society Press: Orwell, VT. 1991. $12.95 paper. ISBN: 1884444059
  • Paul Hansen, Survivors and Partners: Healing the Relationships of Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. ISBN: 096299604
  • Cheston, Sharon E. (1994). As You and the Abused Person Journey Together. Paulist Press. Paperback, 80 pp. ISBN: 0809135132
  • John Courtright and Dr. Sid Rogers, Your Wife Was Sexually Abused. (With discussion guide.)(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1994)
  • Beverly Engel,Partners in Recovery: How Mates, Lovers, & Other ProSurvivors Can Learn to Support & Cope with Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. (New York: Fawcett Books. 1993)

On-line articles:

Sexual Issues

  • Patrick Carnes, Joseph Moriarity, Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred (Hazelden Publishing & Educational Services, 1997) ISBN: 1568381441
  • Ken Graber, Ghosts in the Bedroom; A Guide for Partners of Incest Survivors.(Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications. 1991)
  • Scott Johnson, Man to Man. When Your Partner says NO – Pressured Sex and Date Rape. Safe Society Press. ISBN: 1884444318

Research Articles

  • Marcia M Hughes, Using the Couple Relationship to Address Childhood Sexual Abuse Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, April 1994, Vol. 2, pages 114-121.
  • Brenda Bacon and Laura Lein, Living with a Female Sexual Abuse Survivor: Male partner’s perspectives Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, Vol. 5 p. 1-16, 1996.
  • Eric McCollum, The Effects of Recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse on Marital Relationships Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 1993, Vol. 4, pages 35-46.
  • Allen Dietz and Betty Button, The Challenges of Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse in Adult Relationships. Treating Abuse Today, vol. 1, No. 4. pp. 26-31 (1991)
  • Susan Chauncey, Emotional Concerns and Treatment of Male Partners of Female Sexual Abuse Survivors Social Work, Vol. 39 Issue 6, p669 (1994) [Full text available on line at EBSCOhost. Accession Number: 9411163184]
  • Sheri Oz,When the wife was sexually abused as a child: marital relations before and during her therapy for abuse. Sexual & Relationship Therapy, Vol. 16 Issue 3, p287 (2001) [Full text available on line at EBSCOhost. Accession Number: 5122991]
  • Briana S. Nelson and Karen S. Wampler, Systemic Effects of Trauma in Clinic Couples: an exploratory study of secondary trauma resulting from childhood abuse. Journal of Marital & Family Therapy, Vol. 26 Issue 2, p171 (2000) [Full text available on line at EBSCOhost. Accession Number: 3582011]
  • Valerie E. Whiffen and Melissa E. Judd, Intimate Relationships Moderate the Association Between Childhood Sexual Abuse and Depression.. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 14 Issue 9, p940 (1999) (AN 2157356)
  • Rory Remer and Robert A. Ferguson, Becoming a Secondary Survivor of Sexual Assault. Journal of Counseling & Development, Mar/Apr95, Vol. 73 Issue 4, p407, 7p [Full text available on line at EBSCOhost. Accession Number: 9506040010]

Non-offending Parents of Abused Persons

Having a traumatized child is very painful for parents no matter what the age of the child. Non offending parents often struggle with guilt. “I should have known.” Their relationship with an offending parent may be at risk.

  • Service and support needs of non-offending parents in cases of intrafamilial sexual abuse. By: Massat, Carol Rippey; Lundy, Marta. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 1999, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p41, 16p, 3 charts; (AN 2609224)
  • “Reporting Costs” to Nonoffending Parents in Cases of Intrafamilial Child Sexual Abuse. By: Massat, Carol Rippey; Lundy, Marta. Child Welfare, Jul/Aug98, Vol. 77 Issue 4, p371-388, 18p, 3 charts; (AN 24228880)

Children Of Abused Persons

Recognizing that abuse has an effect on one’s children is often one of the most painful features of the long-term effects of abuse. A parent’s emotional availability to their children can be compromised by the long term effects of trauma. We can pass our stuff on to our children before we even know we have stuff.

  • The effects of child sexual abuse in later family life; mental health, parenting and adjustment of offspring. By: Roberts, Ron; O’Connor, Tom; Dunn, Judy; Golding, Jean. Child Abuse & Neglect, May2004, Vol. 28 Issue 5, p525-545, (AN 13586658)
  • Mothers’ Abusive Childhood Predicts Child Abuse. By: Haapasalo, Jaana; Aaltonen, Terhi. Child Abuse Review, Jul/Aug99, Vol. 8 Issue 4, p231-250 (AN 11842969)
  • The relationships of dissociation and affective family environment with the intergenerational cycle of child abuse. By: Narang, David Singh; Contreras, Josefina M.. Child Abuse & Neglect, Jun2005, Vol. 29 Issue 6, p683-699, (AN 18129768)

4 Responses to “Impact on Family Members”

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  1. Laura says:

    Thank you for posting this. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and I’m now recently married and my husband and I are trying to learn how to deal with how this affects our marriage. We do not live in the US and so resources are limited where we are, so I just wanted to say thanks so much for posting some resources. It is encouraging to us.
    God bless you!
    Laura Piotrowski,

    • Kelsea says:

      Hello Laura, I am doing some research in the 9th grade about abuse of all forms & I would like to know what are some consequences and effects on the parents that had abused children. For example going to jail, etc. I’m having a lot of trouble finding information about that certain detail.

  2. Wanzer Harvey says:

    Thank you for the posting. I am a spouse of an abused wife; she was abused as a child. We are currently separated with three children because of the significant effect the abuse has on people and families, is my strong estimate of our current status. Where we go from here, I’m not sure. But for years I have been fostering the courage necessary for my wife to face what has happened to her. But today she has not the courage to heal. The resolve, she left me and took my children for higher goals; irrespective of our marriage, its future and the commitments. Sorry, it is sad but these are the facts and we all are hurting still… When will the healing start?

    With the courage to heal,
    Wanzer Harvey

  3. Susan says:

    I am a 45 year old female who survived childhood sexual abuse as well as rape. I am responding more for the men out there who are decent human beings who are suffering in relationships over something they cannot understand. It took years for me to realize that a “decent” man could exist. And for the ones who are dealing with women survivors I feel your pain. How can you understand when it hasn’t been explained to you. I have lived most of my adult life alone due to my own experience. And not for lack of oppurtunities. I consider myself a very attractive female but due to what my siblings as well as myself went through at the hands of my stepfather it left me with a fear… A fear of commitment and a fear of intimacy. I have been in and out of relationships and could be ok for a short time but it would eventually come back to haunt me. In more simple terms…at the first sign of sexual obligation it would begin. …the dreaded monster. The feeling that I no longer had a choice, the feeling of “duty”. I would always shut down and become distant. Then the anxiety would start. And the all too familiar guilt and shame. I would leave the relationship so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it or think about it anymore. Being alone became my friend. I am currently in a relationship that I very much want to succeed in. It will be a year in june. I won’t lie and say that I’m not having those feelings from time to time, but I am working very hard to overcome them. I am hoping he will be patient enough to understand. I don’t think it ever really goes away but if the right person comes along I think we can get through it. I wish everyone the best. Life is too short to let this control it.

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