What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is absolutely any form of undesired sexual behavior. Period. It’s in the high profile cases you hear about in the news and in the quiet unwanted sexual encounter with someone you thought you trusted. If you’ve experienced sexual abuse, you are not alone.

Understanding Sexual Abuse

Sexual assault and sexual abuse can be disastrous for mental and physical health. Survivors have an increased risk of depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and substance use disorders. The pros say people can experience the devastating mental health effects of sexual abuse weeks, months, and even years later.

People may encounter sexual abuse in a variety of situations—with a stranger at a party, at your place of work, with a long-term romantic partner. Regardless of the situation, one thing is always true: it is never ever the victim’s fault.

Surviving sexual abuse is not a linear process. One day, you can wake up feeling totally fine. Then, BAM. You see or hear something that reminds you of the assault. That is how trauma works. Anytime, anywhere, out of nowhere—back to square one. And, that is the thing about surviving: over time, with the right help, you can unlock the tools you need to not only survive, but also to thrive. Because, you deserve love and compassion. Your body deserves to be safe. And, there are so many people (including us!) ready to help you make that happen.

Signs and Symptoms

First of all, if you have been sexually assaulted or abused, we believe you and we are so sorry this happened to you.

Sexual abuse is any and every unwanted sexual experience with the intention of displaying power. Often, survivors show no outward indications of sexual abuse and do not have any physical injuries. Here are some signs of sexual abuse, if you think it might have happened to you:

  • Unwanted touching
  • Rape
  • Someone forcing you to perform sexual acts
  • Refusal to use protection and contraception
  • Taking advantage of you while you are incapacitated (drunk, under the influence of drugs, or otherwise unable to give consent)
  • Emotional manipulation (threatening to break up with you) to force sex

Crisis Text Line can help you deal with sexual abuse. Reach a Crisis Counselor by texting HOME to 741741.

Finding Help If You’ve Been Sexually Abused

When you have been so intimately violated, it can feel hard to let someone into your life again. You deserve love and compassion. And, there are so many people here to support you.

Here are a few places to turn for help:

  • Text us. Text 741741 to get connected with a Crisis Counselor. In a hot moment, we can help you work through your emotions, identify healthy coping mechanisms, and—when necessary—help you find safety (ICYMI: we have a pretty good track record).
  • Reach out to a friend, family member, or mentor. Nobody should have to go through their hard stuff alone. If you are feeling vulnerable or scared, identifying even one person who can have your back can make a big difference in your recovery.
  • Get medical attention. If you have been sexually abused, it is important to consult a doctor to ensure that you are physically healthy. This can include attending to any injuries and check for any STIs you may have contracted from your abuser. If you are concerned about finding alone, our friends at RAINN have compiled a list of sexual assault advocacy organizations that can help you find an advocate in your area.
    • PRO-TIP: Timing is everything. If you have been raped, it is particularly important to get medical attention ASAP. A medical provider can help collect any evidence necessary should you want to take legal action in the future by collecting a “rape kit.” This includes attending to any immediate injuries and a head-to-toe examination to collect any DNA samples that may have been left by your abuser. It is your body and you are entitled to stop or pause at any time during the exam. You’ve got the power.

Myths About Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is complicated and happens more than you might think. We are here to bust some myths about how, when, and why it happens.

MYTH: Sexual abuse usually happens by a stranger.
TRUTH: Eight out of ten rapes are committed by someone the victim knows personally.

MYTH: They would not have been raped if they were wearing different clothes.
TRUTH: Someone’s appearance is never an invitation for sexual attention and is never consent. Consent only happens one way: when both parties say “yes.”

MYTH: Only women are sexually abused.
TRUTH: Men experience sexual abuse, too. One out of every ten rape victims are men.

Preventing Sexual Assault

Here’s some good news: sexual violence has fallen by more than half since 1993. This is a great sign that we are moving in the right direction to help keep people safe. There is still more work to do.

Here are a few things you can do in your community to prevent assault:

  • Check-in with your friends. If you have a friend who has a sudden shift in mood, ask them about what is going on in their life. By making the first move, you could help them get out of or process a difficult situation.
  • Share resources with the people you love. Save 741741 in all of your pals’ phones. You know, just so we are there if they ever need us.
  • Challenge social norms. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. To end sexual violence in our communities, we need to teach people that sexually violent behavior is never okay. Have the hard conversations with the people in your life and help them see why sexually predatory behavior is unacceptable.

Recovering from Sexual Abuse

Recovering from sexual abuse may take time. And, it is a process that will likely take revisiting at many points in your life. If you are a victim of sexual assault, know that surviving—and thriving—is possible. There are tools and resources available to help you process what has happened and how to recover.

Here are a few ways to get started in your recovery:

  • Talk to us. As always, reach out to us by texting 741741 if you are in crisis and need someone to talk to.
  • Start with self-care. Maybe you try meditating or getting some fresh air. Make time to do the things that help you feel re-centered so that you can process what has happened to you.
  • Connect with a pro. Find a therapist to help you process what has happened. There are pros trained specifically to help victims of sexual assault. Find someone who works for you. You do not have to do this alone.
  • Safety plan. Considering most victims know the perpetrator of abuse, it is important to make sure you have plans in place to keep yourself safe. This could include finding a friend to crash with, creating a code word for when you are in danger, and telling someone you trust about what is going on.

You do not have to recover alone. We have your back. If you have been sexually abused, text HOME to 741741 to get connected with free and confidential support. For your own privacy, you may want to delete the texts from your phone after the conversation.

Need to vent?

Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a volunteer Crisis Counselor

Free confidential 24/7 support at your fingertips.

Data insights, news, and more straight to your inbox.

Open Table of Contents