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Child Sex Abuse Impact on Adult Psychopathology Essay

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Updated: Jun 7th, 2020

Summary of the Topic

The article by Roth (2012) addresses the issue of gene-environment and the important role it plays in determining the functions of the brain. According to Roth (2012), the changes taking place during the early stages of development in a human being, especially those taking place in sensitive areas, may result in alterations in the genes. However, the changes do not necessarily affect the structure of the DNA. According to Roth (2012), some of the behaviors found in children result from DNA methylation and histone acetylation. The two are biomechanical processes known as epigenetics. The behaviors referred to here are especially those emanating from stress, parental care, and abuse. In the article, Roth (2012) also analyzes neurobiological changes. To this end, epigenetic mechanisms are believed to affect developmental changes in neurobiology and behavior.

Human memory stores a lot of information from the past. According to the article by Roth (2012), the individual can learn from some of these recollections. Different experiences, such as those to do with prenatal stress and infant separation, may interfere with the formation of associative fear memory. The interference affects the ‘filing’ of some of the experiences in the memory. As such, the individual may get affected any time they recall those experiences stored in the brain (Roth, 2012). According to Roth (2012), epigenetics explain how adulthood stressors can change the functions of the brain. Change in the behavior of the brain may lead to psychiatric disorders. The reason is that the alterations are brought about by dysregulation of epigenetic mechanisms in the body.

Introduction to Child Sex Abuse and its Impacts on Adult Psychopathology

As a social problem, child molestation is brought about by a number of factors. In some cases, analysts have shown that parents play a direct or indirect role in the sexual harassment of their children. Loss of self-esteem and trust are some of the impacts that go beyond childhood. Others are a sense of guilt and mixed feelings (Breedlove & Watson, 2013). A number of biological changes are likely to occur in the brain of the minor. Such developments change their behavior depending on the intensity of the situation (Beach et al., 2013).

Child sex abuse may also lead to epigenetic changes in the DNA of the individual. However, it is noted that the changes do not affect the structure of the DNA (Ducci et al., 2008). On the contrary, they only alter how it expresses itself in the body. Reduction in gene expression is induced by DNA methylation. The condition leads to the development of a disease in the area of DNA (Roth, 2012). If the methylation happens to occur in the brain, then the individual is likely to have problems relating with other people (McGowan et al., 2009). The DNA methylation process is used to explain how the brain can be affected by incidences of molestation at childhood. Consequently, Beach et al. (2013) used a model to test parents and children from families associated with symptoms of antisocial personality disorder.

Methods and Results


Beach et al. (2013) used adoptees and adoptive parents recruited from Iowa region. During the experiment, Beach et al. (2013) gathered information from various medical centers in Iowa. They used data pertaining to patients who had visited the facilities with problems related to sex abuse. Beach et al. (2013) used data starting from 1975. Additional information was gathered from psychiatric centers. Names of the people who received help from these establishments in Iowa were noted to support investigations during the experiment.

Information from inmates in the State of Iowa Correctional Centers was used to show what contributed to their behaviors. Records from the medical centers were used to show the symptoms and problems associated with these people. The records were also used to tell of any substance abuse. If instances of substance abuse were identified, Beach et al. (2013) tried to establish whether they were related to childhood sexual molestation.

Beach et al. (2013) also gathered information from structured interviews conducted with the participants. The interviews were used to determine the extent to which the respondents were affected by depression (Ducci et al., 2008). The responses provided during the interviews were used to determine the activity in the brain of the participant. Biological measures were also used to determine genetic activities among the participants. Half of the biological parents were considered positive for genetic load (Beach et al., 2013).


The research activity carried out by Beach et al. (2013) was meant to ascertain the impact of child sex abuse on the brain. The experiment showed that the effects varied between male and female participants. Beach et al. (2013) put these down to variations in emotional weaknesses between the two sexes. According to Beach et al. (2013), CSA was reported 10 times more by female than by male participants.

Most of the female respondents reporting sexual abuse at childhood tended to be associated with antisocial personalities. The affected participants lacked empathy towards other people, something that was clearly brought out in the experiment. The individuals were reckless and tended to engage in antisocial behaviors. According to Beach et al. (2013), most of these manifestations are associated with activities in the brain. From the experiment, Beach et al. (2013) established that the brain was one of the major parts of the body affected by child sex abuse.

Beach et al. (2013) focused more on child sex abuse involving family members. It was found that the problem was reported more by females than by males. In addition, Beach et al. (2013) found that many children were abused by their family members or close relatives. Due to fear and guilt, the participants were unable to receive or access any help after the abuse.

In addition to focusing on epigenetic changes, the experiment aimed at highlighting the effects of substance abuse on the lives of children. It was found that alcohol and other drugs were abused by many adoptees in Iowa. The problem was also common among inmates in the State of Iowa Correctional Center (Beach et al., 2013). The experiment also analyzed how female participants were affected by substance abuse (McGowan et al., 2009). According to Beach et al. (2013), substance abuse is one of the impacts of child sex abuse. Most of the affected participants tended to resolve their problems and their feelings by using drugs. The practice affected their general wellbeing, especially with regards to their way of thinking.

In the study, Beach et al. (2013) found that child sex abuse was driven by perpetrator’s access to the subject and not the characteristics of the victim. A possible explanation for the phenomenon was provided. Some of the major impacts of this form of sexual abuse were substance use and depression. It was also found that parent psychopathology or genetic load contributed to the epigenetic changes reported among the participants (Beach et al., 2013).

Analyses from the experiment showed that most of the participants were suffering from depression and stress. From the information gathered, it was found that the participants did not seek any help after the abuse. Lack of assistance aggravated the situation. Most of them were afraid of the outcomes. The problem continued to cause stress and depression due to the guilt they felt. Most of the Iowa adoptee participants and parents who were afraid to seek help were women. Male participants were more likely to seek assistance than their female counterparts (McGowan et al., 2009).

The incidences occurred to the participants when they were between the ages of 12 and 16. Only two of the respondents recorded to have sexual contact with a non-family member. Analysis from the interview also showed that the condition of most of the participants deteriorated as they grew older. Failure to seek medical help saw most of them abuse drugs like alcohol and bhang. According to Beach et al. (2013), the participants used the drugs to overcome the guilt and the stress on their mind due to the abuse.

Records from the psychiatric centers in Iowa showed that the affected persons were associated with drug abuse. Others were addicted to the substances. Failure to seek help in advance contributed to the problem. Biological measures were conducted on ten participants to confirm this. The results indicated that the abuse of the drugs affected the brain and the genetic functioning of many individuals. The analysis confirmed that genetic changes were not caused by the sexual abuse. On the contrary, they were as a result of other activities that individuals engage in, such as drug abuse (Beach et al., 2013). Instances of high blood pressure among some of the participants were observed after they were sexually abused. Smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol among the participants also contributed to the raised blood pressure.

A number of persons in the correctional centers were responsible for some of the sexual abuses. The history of most of them indicated that they were once abused at childhood. Due to the maltreatment they got, most of them resorted to drugs. It was found that the substances affected part of their brains. The drugs did not get rid of the trauma they had experienced. Records from State of Iowa Correctional Center indicated that most of the inmates engaged in sexual abuse to revenge for what they had gone through in the past. Beach et al. (2013) concluded that if these patients had received help on time, the effects of abuse on their brains could have been reduced. Consequently, they could have been able to lead normal lives without stress.

A Critique of the Experiments

The biological measure, the interview, and analysis of records from the correctional and psychiatric centers in Iowa gave similar results. Most of the people who were affected by the problem did not seek any help immediately as required. The approach adopted by Beach et al. (2013) helped to identify various ways through which the problem can be resolved. One of the ways entails seeking psychiatric help immediately after the sex abuse. It is noted that most psychiatric centers are doing a good job in protecting victims of sex abuse. The research by Beach et al. (2013) helped to show that most victims remain silent after the abuse. The silence is the main reason behind the various mental challenges (Roth, 2012).

Different surveys indicate that most cases of suicide among the young people are caused by sexual abuse (Ducci et al., 2008). Some people resort to suicide as they are unable to deal with the problem. The deaths can be prevented by seeking early psychiatric help. Psychiatric assistance helps the victims to control the situation calmly without resorting to negative activities like drug abuse. The research by Beach et al. (2013) showed that social support restores the self-esteem of the victims. The help gives them the strength to survive the ordeal (Roth, 2012). Counseling could have helped majority of the victims in the correctional centers to resolve their problems. In addition, medical intervention can go a long way in reducing cases of sexually transmitted infections.


The impacts of child sex abuse are adverse. The subject has attracted a number of scholars to this field. Research conducted on this topic shows that most victims are affected both psychologically and physically. Studies show that some of the problems associated with the abuse can be prevented by seeking psychiatric help. Incidences of child sex abuse have increased in the modern society. Some of the perpetrators have mental problems.

The gene environment is responsible for some of the behaviors adopted by individuals at adulthood. Epigenetic changes determine the development of genes. Studies in this field show that most of the children affected by psychiatric and brain disorders suffer from cognitive dysfunctions. Suicidal behaviors are associated with changes in the brain’s genetic structure. However, psychiatric interventions can help such individuals deal with the experiences stored in their memory. Child sex abuse is one such experience that can change the functions of the brain. Addressing the problem can reduce its effects on the brain and ensure that the structure of the genes is not tampered with. Future studies can provide more information on this.


Beach, S., Brody, G., Lei, M., Gibbons, F., Gerrard, M., Simons, R.,…Philibert, R. (2013). Impact of child sex abuse on adult psychopathology: A genetically and epigenetically informed investigation. Journal of Family Psychology, 27(1), 3-11. Web.

Breedlove, S., & Watson, V. (2013). Biological psychology: An introduction to behavioral, cognitive, and clinical neuroscience (7th ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer. Web.

Ducci, F., Enoch, M., Hodgkinson, C., Xu, K., Catena, M., Robin, R., & Goldman, D. (2008). Interaction between a functional MAOA locus and childhood sexual abuse predicts alcoholism and antisocial personality disorder in adult women. Molecular Psychiatry, 13(3), 334-347. Web.

McGowan, P., Sasaki, A., D’Alessio, A., Dymov, S., Labonte, B., Szyf, M.,…Meaney, M. (2009). Epigenetic regulation of the glucocorticoid receptor in human brain associates with childhood abuse. Nature Neuroscience, 12(3), 342-348. Web.

Roth, T. (2012). Epigenetics of neurobiology and behavior during development and adulthood. Developmental Psychobiology, 54(6), 590-597. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Child Sex Abuse Impact on Adult Psychopathology." June 7, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/child-sex-abuse-impact-on-adult-psychopathology/.


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