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What is Sexual Assault/Abuse?

A person is sexually abused when they are forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities.

This usually involves unwanted physical contact, but it can also be through forced digital engagement. Sexual abuse is a form of psychological manipulation and can cause serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and OCD. Sometimes a sexual assault or abuse victim won't understand that what's happening to them is a crime, or even wrong. This is particularly notable if the assault happens during childhood.

The true number of offences remains doubtful, generally assumed to be larger, due to expected unreported cases. While men representing 98% of all defendants in 2015/16, sexual assault/abuse can happen to anyone of any age, gender, ethnicity or social background.

What is 'contact' abuse?

Contact abuse involves touching activities where an abuser makes physical contact with a person, including penetration (rape).


It includes:

  • sexual touching of any part of the body whether the person is wearing clothes or not

  • rape or penetration by putting an object or body part inside a person's mouth, vagina or anus

  • forcing or encouraging a person to take part in sexual activity

  • making a person take their clothes off, touch someone else's genitals or masturbate

What is non 'contact' abuse?

Non-contact abuse involves non-touching activities, such as grooming, exploitation, persuading someone to perform sexual acts over the internet and flashing.


It includes:

  • meeting someone following sexual grooming and the intent of abusing them

  • encouraging a person to watch or hear sexual acts when they are uncomfortable

  • online abuse including making, viewing or distributing sexual abuse images or allowing someone else to do the same

  • showing pornography to a person who is underage

  • Pressuring someone to send or post sexually explicit images of themselves

  • Pressuring someone to take part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone

  • Pressuring someone to have sexual conversations by text or online

Abusers may threaten to send images, video or copies of conversations to the person's friends and family unless they take part in other sexual activity.

Images or videos may continue to be shared long after the sexual abuse has stopped.


My Sexual Abuse Survivor Story

Alice Mitchell, 22

I was sexually abused by a member of my family for around 6 years. To this day there are only a handful of people who know the details of this.

I was around 12 years old when I was last abused, yet I am now 22 years old and I still hesitate to publicly name the offender. 

I spent years believing what happened to me as a child was normal. I spent years believing it was my fault or that I could have done more to stop it. I spent years not understanding the acts I was being pressured into. I spent years hiding the severe psychological damage this experience caused me.

I identify as asexual and you could argue that this is an outcome of this sexual trauma. I believe, however, that my sexuality is an integral part of who I am that would have come to light whether I was abused or not.

This is not to say that it had no lasting impact on my ability to form and maintain relationships. I entered the dating game relatively late but it quickly became apparent that my self worth was extremely low in my eyes. I had voices in my head telling me I was only good to be used for sex and tossed aside afterwards. I believed I would never be able to have an intimate relationships with someone and when I did I found myself having severe panic attacks and graphic flashbacks to the days I was abused.

How to recognize sexual abuse

Children who are being sexually abused may:

Stay away from certain people

  • they might avoid being alone with people, such as family members or friends

  • they could seem frightened of a person or reluctant to socialise with them

Show sexual behavior that's inappropriate for their age

  • a child might become sexually active at a young age

  • they might be promiscuous

  • they could use sexual language or know information that you wouldn't expect them to

Have physical symptoms

  • anal or vaginal soreness

  • an unusual discharge

  • sexually transmitted infection (STI)

  • pregnancy

Develop changes in behavior

  • withdrawn

  • clingy

  • problems sleeping/wets the bed

  • misses school

  • changes in eating habits

  • obsessive behavior

  • drugs/alcohol

  • self-harm

Adults who were abused as children may:

  • develop emotional difficulties such as anger, anxiety, sadness or low self-esteem

  • develop severe mental health problems such as depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, suicidal thoughts and struggles with self harm

  • develop problems with drugs or alcohol

  • suffer with disturbing thoughts, emotions and memories (flashbacks) that cause distress or confusion

  • poor physical health such as obesity, aches and pains

  • struggle to develop and maintain healthy relationships; romantics or otherwise

  • worry that their abuser is still a threat to themselves or others

  • develop learning difficulties, lower educational attainment, difficulties in communicating

  • develop behavioral problems from anti-social behavior to criminal behavior

  • become 'sex obsessed' with a fixation on dominant/submissive relationships

  • become sex repulsed and/or have a intense fear or engaging in any sexual activity

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