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.

To learn more about issues like sexual abuse, emotional trauma, and abusive relationships, browse our library of podcasts, ebooks, and blogs to learn more about warning signs of abuse and the path to recovery:

  • What Are The Signs Of An Abusive Relationship?
  • What Can I Do If My Friend is Being Abused?
  • What Can I Do About An Abusive Relationship?

FAQ on Sexual Abuse:

Can I Heal After Sexual Abuse?

You need to know sexual abuse is never your fault and is never okay. You should never be made to keep secrets that make you uncomfortable. Please find someone who you trust to talk to about what’s going on in your life. It may be a pastor, school counselor, therapist, or doctor. But you must find some place to get help as soon as you possibly can.

Learn more

Most Recent Blogs on Sexual Abuse

Coping with Sexual Abuse


You Can Be Whole Again I've decided to tackle one of the most difficult kinds of abuse there is: sexual. While any kind of abuse is damaging and wicked, sexual abuse is exceptionally destructive because of the twisted mixture of its physical, emotional, and spiritual elements. Most people refuse to talk..Read more

Sexual Abuse: Talleha’s Story [Video]


Here is Talleha's story: Talleha had been sexually abused and as a result, was depressed and ready to kill herself...then she found TheHopeLine with Dawson McAllister and found help and hope. https://youtu.be/r2shtrzfb7k More Stories of Abuse Survivors: Abbie's Story of Sexual Abuse How Patrick Found Hope 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused by the age of 18 1 in..Read more

The Common Thread Of Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It


Sexual Allegations Soar As I scroll through my social media newsfeed, I can’t help but notice a recurring trend. Almost daily, it seems as though we’re being bombarded by some sort of sexual allegation being made against yet another prominent individual. Even the rich and powerful – once thought to be..Read more

One Yes, Two Yes, Three Yes, No


No Means No Everyone reading this is probably very familiar with the phrase, “No means no!” If you aren’t, take a minute to educate yourself. If you need a hint, we’re not talking about the rock band today… we’re talking about consent! Maybe you’re familiar with the concept of consent when..Read more

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Sexual Abuse and Suicidal: They Didn’t Believe Me


I wasn’t really close to God. In fact, I was far away from Him. My History of Sexual Abuse I blocked my childhood sexual abuse memories. I was sexually abused by my mom’s boyfriend for 4 years. My family believes that my mom’s boyfriend is innocent, and nice. They don’t believe..Read more

Sexual Abuse: Scared to Tell My Story


When I found your site I was skeptical at first, I never told anyone about my dilemma. I was scared to tell my story, but knew I needed help. My Story of Sexual Abuse Before I was even five years old my half-brother, who is ten years older than me,..Read more

Sexual Abuse and Learning to Cope


  My Childhood was Full of Pain I was born into a drug using family. My father has never been in my life. My mother used drugs up until last year. While living with my mother I went through plenty of traumatic events such as not having a father, being..Read more

Eating Disorder: I Stopped Eating to Become “Good Enough”


I had to think long and hard about if I should share my story. Then I came to the conclusion that it would be worth it if it lets someone else know they aren’t alone, and it could be therapeutic for me. So here is my story and what led..Read more

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Free eBook: Understanding a Relationship with God

Free eBook: Understanding a Relationship with God Do You Feel Like Life is Meaningless? Are you wondering what your purpose is? Do you have questions about what Christians believe or what it means to be a Christian? At TheHopeLine we believe real and lasting HOPE can only come through a relationship with Jesus. And this […]

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