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Childhood sexual abuse can cast lifelong shadow

According to the experts, childhood sexual abuse has serious, long-term consequences. Victims are often depressed and suicidal. They have low self-esteem, suffer from anxiety attacks and have difficulty establishing normal social relationships.

Many victims suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Some block out the abuse and suppress their emotions. Others continuously re-experience the abuse through flashbacks, nightmares and invasive thoughts. Many have eating, drug, alcohol and sexual problems.

Female victims frequently blame themselves for the abuse; many become promiscuous or prostitutes.

Male victims are even more prone to blame themselves and shoulder responsibility for the abuse. Many feel unmanly, incompetent and helpless throughout their lives.

Child sex-abuse victims frequently make poor parents. Some become abusers themselves, repeating the very experiences that traumatized them. Others are overly strict, enforcing a rigid set of moralistic values on their families.

Experts say that all victims should receive treatment to confront and overcome problems caused by abuse. Even if these problems do not seem apparent, experts say they can lurk unnoticed for many years before causing tragic consequences.

Child abuse experts describe child sexual abuse as America's hidden epidemic. They say studies show that at least one in four women are sexually abused before they reach the age of consent, while the rate for men is at least one in six.

Oregon law does not have a single definition for childhood sexual abuse. Instead, it defines several degrees of sexual abuse depending on the age, mental capacity and physical condition of the victim.

Under Oregon law, sexual abuse involves sexual contact with a person who cannot legally or mentally consent to the contact or who cannot physically resist it. The most serious crime Ñ sexual abuse in the first degree Ñ occurs when the victim is under the age of 14, is subjected to force or is incapable of giving consent because of a mental or physical condition.

First-degree sexual abuse is a Class B felony.

Many experts define sexual abuse much more broadly. They say physical contact is not necessary to scar a child's psyche. Words and even parading naked before a youngster can create lifelong problems, they say.