What is sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse is any unsolicited sexual behaviour or act that is forced upon a woman, man, or child without prior consent. Anyone can experience sexual abuse irrespective of age, gender, background, or race. This includes children as well as adults.
Sexual abusers are criminals; these perpetrators of sexual violence abuse the perceived vulnerabilities of their victims. In most cases, sexual abusers commit this heinous crime with the sole objective of gaining complete power and control over their victims. Furthermore, attackers also sexually abuse people in order to degrade and humiliate them. Whilst anyone can be subjected to sexual abuse, most victims of sexual violence are women. In 2017 the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated that 20% of women and 4% of men have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16, equivalent to 3.4 million female and 651,000 male victims. A common misconception about sexual abuse is that the assailant is a stranger to the victim; this couldn’t be further from the truth. In most cases, abusers are in the family or they could be a figure of authority who the victim’s family knows and trusts.
Is it still sexual abuse if it doesn’t involve penetration?
While penetrative acts of sexual violence constitute sexual abuse, sexual abuse also includes sexual harassment and emotional sexual abuse. Sexual harassment can consist of forcing another person to perform acts of a sexual nature against their will. It can also involve making advances towards people who have expressed their disinterest but insist anyway. Publishing an intimate photo of somebody without their consent is also a form of non-contact sexual abuse and the punishment can be severe.
Sexual abuse can also manifest within relationships in the form of sexual blackmail and coercion. For example, pressuring a partner into engaging in sexual intercourse despite them initially saying no is a form of sexual abuse. Being in a relationship with someone does not give you the right to their body. Additionally, making your partner perform certain sexual acts or feel bad (emotional blackmail) if they refuse sex is sexual abuse.
Signs of sexual abuse
Everyone reacts to trauma in their own complex way. If it is a child or young person who is experiencing sexual abuse they might not be able or ready to tell you about the abuse. Instead, you might notice signs, including physical signs and changes in children’s behaviour or emotions. However, among survivors of sexual abuse, there are some common signs to look out for:
- Them becoming distant and withdrawn when they were otherwise sociable
- Isolating themselves from relationships whether that be family or friendships
- Physical signs such as bruises, unexplained marks, or cuts on their skin
- Showing signs of problematic sexual behaviour
- Noticing that they are engaging in self-destructive behaviour such as alcohol or drug abuse
Symptoms of sexual abuse
Whilst the above state’s ways in which you may be able to spot signs of sexual abuse, the following describes ways in which sexual abuse can personally affect survivors of sexual violence:
- Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and eating disorders
- Wanting to avoid people or places that remind you of the assault or abuse
- Feeling concerned and confusion about sexual orientation following the abuse
- Feeling emasculated (if identifying as male)
- Feeling a loss of control over your own body
- Being unable to relax
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Feeling shame over not being able to put an end to the assault or abuse
- Fear of being judged or ridiculed if you speak out about what happened
How we can help
If you have experienced sexual abuse and want to talk to somebody about your experience, there are various charities including RAINN and safeline that support men, women, children, and young people following sexual assault.
Additionally, if you have experienced sexual abuse then you may be eligible for compensation. Although this money can never make up for the physical and mental damage caused by this violence of this nature, sexual abuse compensation can provide you with significant financial help if you wish to enrol in counselling or therapy.
To find out more, please call +0151 242 5111 for free confidential advice from an experienced and empathetic solicitor today.