The FACTS and the Feelings
Every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted.
44% are under the age of 18.
80% are under the age of 30.
Sexual abuse can happen to women or men, or girls and boys of any age. For an adult, sexual abuse can include derogatory name calling, refusal to use contraception, deliberately causing unwanted physical pain during sex, deliberately passing on sexual diseases or infections and using objects, toys, or other items (e.g. baby oil or lubricants) without consent and to cause pain or humiliation.
For a child, sexual abuse is any sexual act with a child performed by an adult or an older child. It may include:
- Sexual touching of any kind
- Making a child touch an adult’s sexual organs
- Penetrating a vagina, anus, or mouth, no matter how slight, with a penis or any object that doesn’t have a valid medical purpose part of the body, clothed or unclothed
- Encouraging a child to engage in sexual activity, including masturbation
- Intentionally engaging in sexual activity in front of a child
- Showing children pornography, or using children to create pornography
- Encouraging a child to engage in prostitution
- Engaging in indecent exposure or exhibitionism
- Masturbating in front of a child.
Some Terms & Explanations
Covert incest: establishing a relationship with a child that replicates an adult sexual relationship even when there is no overt sexual contact. A child is not psychologically prepared to cope with repeated sexual stimulation, either by touch or by witnessing sexual acts without being able to assimilate what is being witnessed. Even a two or three year old, who cannot know what the sexual activity means, will develop problems resulting from the inability to cope with the overstimulation.
The unremembered abuse: abuse is not always recalled in a linear way. The effects of trauma are often stored in the body, not in cognitive memory. You don’t have to remember what or when it happened or who did it, to know that it is real.
Sexual abuse, especially by someone close to the child is complex. A child who knows and cares for the abuser or who is dependent on that person, becomes trapped between affection, loyalty or fear, even though she may sense that the sexual activities are terribly wrong for her.
If the violation occurs as an adult, it can be significantly complicated for other reasons. When a woman is raped, the aftermath can be devastating, especially if she does not receive immediate physical and emotional support. Violent sexual assault,whether at the hands of a stranger or someone known, can trigger many reactions either immediately or long after it has happened.
Maybe you were abused at work, in your home, on a date, in the military, by a therapist or a clergyperson.
Forcing or coercing a woman to engage in sexual activity under threat or in the context of a power differential: i.e. sex with an employer, therapist, military officer, doctor, pastor or rabbi—is sexual abuse. If this has happened to you, you might have withdrawn into depression or isolation. You may experience fear to be in public places, or in social situations. You might be angry at the world, men in general, or even yourself. You could feel out of control, fragile, or numb because of your experience.
You might have blamed yourself because you thought you should have known how to protect yourself. You feel betrayed and wonder if or how you will ever trust anyone again. Perhaps you were not believed when you first came forward after a rape. As a result you may struggle to trust persons in a position of authority. You may have been drugged (date rape drug) and are fearful of any medication including medication that you know you need.
Perhaps you were told you must keep the nature of the relationship a secret. If you tried to break away from the sexual part of the relationship, the abuser might have threatened you with violence or loss of love—or the loss of someone else you love, especially when the perpetrator is part of the family or someone deeply connected to you. You may still fear the anger, jealousy or shame from other family members, or be afraid the family will break up if the secret is told. You may also have had to confront the possibility you would not be believed, or be blamed if you try to speak of this.
If you were the victim of sexual abuse, you may have developed an abiding sense of shame, a feeling of ugliness or worthlessness and a sense that you are damaged goods. Perhaps you have believed all along that you yourself were bad, were damaged goods, or not worth whatever good life can bring or that you could return to the good life you had. It may have become more and more difficult for you to have relationships as an adult that were not affected by your experience. Humiliation often compounds shame. You may not have any clear notion of boundaries, personal space, what real safety means, or your own needs. You might even sabotage or push away any meaningful connection that has the potential to be nurturing.
The way you have coped with your sexual abuse may have led to physical illness. Perhaps you have migraines, vaginal problems, asthma, arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis—in short, your body often tells the story of what has happened.
Survivors often buy into the lies they have been told by those who have abused them, or others who blame them for what happened. You may be conflicted because you experienced some sexual pleasure when you were abused, or at least got what you thought was some nurturing from the offender. Often sexual acts were the only representation of love that were ever given to you.
Some of you may fear retaliation, the stigma of being different, or that you are somehow a target for others to abuse you again. You may simply fear anything beyond the familiarities of the abuse. You might even fear yourself—feeling that you could repeat with others what has been done to you. You may not trust your own judgments or intuition.
A sexual abuse survivor can become depressed or overwhelmed with the grief of what they have lost: their childhood, their innocence, and control over their life, their self-respect. Some may be overly passive, inordinately aggressive—or passive-aggressive because they feel powerless. Others may allow themselves to be beaten, raped repeatedly in their own homes, disregarded in their workplace, or ignored and made invisible in their communities.
For a survivor of sexual abuse, the outside world may be suspect. You might isolate, or drink, take drugs, or compulsively surf the internet or play computer games to cope with overwhelming feelings; some of you might mutilate yourselves, eat compulsively or starve; either act out sexually, or never engage with anyone in an intimate way. You may not be able to sleep; you may have flashbacks or nightmares, panic attacks or dissociate. Some of you might carry layers and layers of clothes or fat, or wear barely anything at all as a reaction to what has happened.