What Is Sexual Abuse? Signs & Next Steps
National statistics on sexual abuse and assault in America are staggering. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women will be raped in their lifetime, as well as 1 in 75 men.
One in three women and one in six men will experience some kind of sexual violence in their lifetime. Nearly half of multiracial women and around 45% of American Indian/Alaska Native women experience some form of contact with sexual violence in their lifetime.
While sexual abuse is an issue that tends to be brushed under the rug or regarded as taboo, it’s likely that each and every one of us have either experienced sexual abuse or knows someone who has been sexually abused.
Being an informed citizen – even on these tough topics – could be what helps you keep yourself and others safe from this prevalent danger.
What is Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse (or sexual violence, as it is more generally named) is “any sexual contact or behavior that happens without your consent”, according to the Center for Family Justice.
There are a few unfounded myths surrounding sexual abuse that it is important to clarify:
It is much less likely that someone will be sexually abused by a stranger. While random attacks do happen, most survivors of sexual assault report having a prior relationship with their abuser.
It is also fairly uncommon for sexual abuse victims to show outward signs of their abuse. Physical force is often not used in cases of sexual abuse.
While the numbers do show higher frequencies of sexual abuse toward females, people of all races, sexes, and sexual orientations can be victims of sexual violence.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
If you’re in a relationship, or have a partner who is pressuring you into engaging in sexual activities you’re not comfortable with, this is one of the signs of sexual abuse.
Even though you may have previously consented to intercourse with this person, unwelcome sexual advances are never part of a healthy relationship.
Some other indicators of sexual abuse include:
- Refusing you contraceptives
- Forcing you to engage in painful or uncomfortable sexual acts
- Forcing you to perform sexual acts for money
- Threatening you if you do not have sex with them
Signs of sexual abuse can vary from person to person, especially among age groups. In the case of children, unusual responses to a specific person, sexualized play, or unusual fascination with reproductive parts can be signs of sexual abuse. Among adults, signs of sexual abuse may appear like those of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), involving depression, anxiety, as well as a host of other mental health issues.
While neither of these lists is comprehensive, observing these qualities in your friends and family is cause for alarm and should be addressed. At the same time, it is not your responsibility to be a clinician or their psychiatrist. If you suspect someone you know is a victim of abuse, your first step should be to get help.
What You Can Do
Getting help quickly is the first step to ensuring that abuse stops and that the survivor can begin the road to recovery as quickly as possible.
RAINN is one of the largest and most trusted organizations in the fight against sexual violence. Their organization has a vast array of resources to continue your education regarding sexual abuse and provide you with contacts for helping you with next steps if you or someone you know is experiencing sexual violence.
Telling a trusted authority figure like a teacher, school counselor, or other administrator can also be a way to find help. These individuals are legally bound to reach out to the proper authorities in cases of suspected abuse.
In an immediate crisis involving sexual violence, calling 9-1-1 is the quickest way to get in touch with the appropriate authorities to properly handle all of the legal and medical implications of sexual abuse.
Remember that even in the midst of all kinds of darkness, God’s love shines bright. His heart breaks for those who experience sexual abuse and his deep desire is to help victims find hope and healing. If you want to know more about God’s love for you, TheHopeLine’s Hope Coaches are available to help you.