Guide to Dealing with Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is a very serious issue. Whether it was an isolated incident or a series of events, no one ever deserves to be sexually abused. If you or your family are in immediate danger, call 911 for help.

This guide will help you to understand:

  • what types of acts or behaviors constitute sexual abuse
  • what are the different kinds of sexual abuse
  • how to cope with being sexually abused
  • where to go for guidance and support

Sexual abuse is one of the most common forms of abuse, and is one of the least reported. In fact, it’s been estimated that 63% of sexual assaults are never reported to the police and 88% of child sexual abuse goes unreported.

These statistics are even more shocking when the frequency of these acts is taken into account. One in five women, for instance, will be raped in her lifetime according to experts. Beyond that, almost half of all women and 20% of men have experienced some form of sexual assault at one point in their lives.

Since this type of abuse is so often unreported, the victims will rarely get the help they need to overcome the emotional damage it has caused.

What Kinds of Sexual Abuse Are There?

Listed below are three categories that many instances of sexual abuse fall under:

  • Sexual Assault: Sexual assault is defined by the United States Department of Justice as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” It can include acts such as fondling, groping, attempted rape, and forced masturbation.
  • Rape: Rape is a type of sexual assault that usually involves some degree of sexual penetration or intercourse and is performed without one person’s consent.
  • Child Sexual Abuse: Child sexual abuse can be physical and non-physical. All sexual touching between an adult and a child or between a significantly older child and a child is considered child sexual abuse. Non-physical acts of child sexual abuse can include acts such as exposing oneself to a child, child voyeurism (spying without consent), exposing inappropriate sexual material to a child such as pornography or overly sexual language, as well as the viewing, creation, and distributing of child pornography.

It is also important to remember that there are other types of sexual abuse that do not fall into these categories. Verbal sexual abuse, for instance, is also quite common and can be just as damaging as physical abuse. Some examples are catcalling and sexual harassment.

Acts known as “revenge porn” are also a form of sexual abuse. This is a term used to describe sharing explicit material (such as photographs or videos) of intimate partners or ex-partners to other people without their consent. It usually occurs after a separation and can be spread through the Internet.

In many states, any type of sexual abuse, whether it be physical, verbal, or otherwise, is illegal and is punished with tough penalties, fines, prison time, and may require the offender to be listed on a registry of sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is more common than most people think. Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, and over 321,000 people aged 12 or older are sexually assaulted every year in the United States. Furthermore, experts estimate that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.

Another alarming fact about sexual assault is that the attackers are usually someone that the victim knows. In fact, only 3 out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by a stranger, leaving 70% of the assaults perpetrated by someone the victim knows.

One type of abuse that accounts for a large portion of sexual assault cases is “date rape”. Also known as “acquaintance rape”, date rape is a form of rape that occurs between individuals that may have had a romantic or potentially sexual relationship. It is most prevalent on college campuses and can go hand in hand with drug and alcohol use, sometimes resulting in the victim being raped while unconscious.

No matter the situation, any type of sexual behavior that occurs without both parties’ consent and should be taken very seriously.

What to Do If You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted

If you have been sexually assaulted, it is important that you follow these steps:

  1. If you are still in danger, CALL 911.The most important thing to do after being sexually assaulted is to make sure you are out of harm’s way by finding a safe location such as the home of a friend, family member, or trusted individual. A medical facility or police department would also be a safe place, if you know that you want to report the assault.
  2. Contact a local sexual assault crisis center or a national sexual assault hotline such as the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). They can help connect you with a local crisis center and give you information on what to do next.
  3. Consider reporting the incident to the police. If you decide to report the assault, you need to be guided to a facility that will utilize a rape kit to help preserve any DNA evidence that can be used against your attacker.
  4. Consider scheduling a medical examination as well to check for internal injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, or pregnancy. The more your medical practitioner knows about the situation, the more they will be able to help you.

Support After Sexual Assault

Sexual assault can cause serious emotional and psychological problems for victims, which is why it is important to build a system of support. Confide in friends and family who you trust to be there to help you.

You can also utilize the following resources to help you cope with the lasting effects of your sexual assault:

Additionally, you can perform an online search for the terms “sexual assault support” and “rape support” in your zip code to find other resources and support groups that are ready to help you recover.

Sexual Abuse in a Relationship

Sexual abuse doesn’t only occur among acquaintances or strangers. In fact, 1 out of 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner and 15.8% of women and 9.5% of men have experienced some form of sexual abuse by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.

Also known as intimate partner sexual violence (IPSV), this type of sexual abuse can be particularly devastating, as many victims don’t even know that they are being sexually abused at all. However, it is important to realize that any time a participant in a sexual act does not give consent, even if this act is with their sexual partner, that act is still considered sexual assault. You should never be forced into a sexual situation unwillingly.

Some examples of intimate partner sexual violence include:

  • forced sexual acts such as vaginal, anal, or oral penetration
  • forced sexual acts with others
  • unwanted touching or groping
  • forced masturbation
  • emotional abuse as a result of not giving in to sexual demands

Taking Action Against Sexual Abuse in a Relationship

Many victims of intimate partner sexual violence choose not to seek help due to the nature of their relationship. It could be because they are concerned with their safety and the safety of their family members, they do not want to hurt their partners, or they don’t even know that what is happening to them constitutes abuse.

It is important to realize that sexual abuse is an enormous risk factor for physical abuse, emotional abuse, and possibly homicide. In fact, a physically abused woman who is also sexually abused is 7 times more likely to be murdered than other abused women. That’s why taking the steps to either seek help or end the relationship is so critical.

Support for Victims of Sexual Abuse in a Relationship

If you are suffering from sexual abuse in your relationship, reach out to friends and family for emotional support. You should also contact the RAINN national helpline for sexual abuse at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for professional advice.

You can also find more information and support groups through the following resources:

Additionally, you can perform an online search using the terms “domestic sexual abuse”, “partner sexual abuse”, or “intimate partner sexual violence”to find even more information and support.

Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse is more common than most people would like to think. For instance, the National Center for Victims of Crime reports that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are the victims of child sexual abuse. Furthermore, some studies show that 5% to 10% of adult males and 20% of adult females recall a childhood sexual assault or incident of sexual abuse.

Just as with other forms of sexual abuse, the attacker is most often someone that the child knows. They can be a family member, neighbor, teacher, coach, friend of the family, or a child that is significantly older (usually 3 years or more).

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

Recognizing the signs of sexual abuse in children is a crucial step. Use the lists below (provided by to help you determine if someone you know and care about may be the victim of sexual abuse. Keep in mind that these signs may be caused by a variety of factors and may not point definitively to sexual abuse.

  • Non-Physical warning signs of sexual abuse in children
    • Acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects
    • Nightmares, sleeping problems
    • Becoming withdrawn or very clingy
    • Becoming unusually secretive
    • Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings, and seeming insecure
    • Regressing to younger behaviors, e.g. bedwetting
    • Unaccountable fear of particular places or people
    • Outburst of anger
    • Changes in eating habits
    • New adult words for body parts and no obvious source
    • Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts
    • Self-harm (cutting, burning or other harmful activities)
    • Running away
    • Not wanting to be alone with a particular adult, child or young person
  • Physical warning signs of sexual abuse in children
    • Pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth
    • Unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals or mouth, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy
    • Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements
    • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

Support for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse

If you or someone you know has been the victim of child sexual abuse and needs help on who to talk to or what steps to take, call one of these national helplines:

  • RAINN Helpline: 800-656-HOPE (4673)
  • Darkness to Light National Child Sexual Abuse Helpline: 1-866-FOR-LIGHT (367-5444)
  • National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: 1-800-THE-LOST (843-5678)
  • National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4AC-HILD (422-4453)

You can also find more information on the subject as well support groups using these resources:

You can find more information online by conducting a search for “child sexual abuse support”.

If you are an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, use the resources below to find additional information and support groups.

DISCLAIMER: This guide is provided only for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for legal or other professional advice. This guide does not contain nor is it intended to provide legal or other professional advice for any specific situation and readers should not take action or refrain from taking action, based only on the information provided in this guide. Goldberg & Osborne has attempted to provide accurate and current information in this guide, but cannot and does not guarantee that the information is accurate, complete, or up to date. This guide may contain links and/or search terms that will lead to external websites as a convenience to the reader, but Goldberg & Osborne is not responsible for the content or operation of any website other than its own website. The presence of a link or a search term does not imply and is not an endorsement by Goldberg & Osborne of the website provider or the information contained on any linked website or on any website contained in search results from a search term provided in the guide.