Statistics reveal that at least one of four girls and one of six boys have been molested before the age of 18. The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as an: unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.” Most victims know their perpetrator (usually male) which may be a family member, friend or acquaintance, or a date rape. Here’s what you need to know.
Sexual Abuse Can Take Many Forms
Sexual abuse can be physical, emotional, and verbal. It can be overt (such as being physically molested or raped) or covert (someone making questionable comments about your looks or staring at your body). It can also be used in bullying.
Physical sexual abuse can be molestation (touching inappropriately either under clothes or over clothes), penetration by the abuser, or penetration using on object.
Verbal sexual abuse can include making unwanted comments about your body, threatening to harm loved ones if you tell about the abuse, and even whistling.
Emotional abuse is harder to define, but it can include physical and verbal abuse or can be abuse on its own such as someone playing sexual mind games with you, making threatening comments, or any behaviors that feel abusive such as the perpetrator grabbing his crotch, being a voyeur, exposing himself, or saying that you led him on and that he’s going to tell everyone that you’re a slut.
What To Do if You’ve Experienced Sexual Abuse
- Get help immediately. Do not keep it secret. Call a trusted friend or adult to help you cope. Call 911 or a hotline. Here are two hotlines you could call: National Victims of Sexual Assault National Victims of Domestic Violence Hotline
- Get medical help by going to the hospital; do not bathe or change clothes. If there has been penetration, the hospital can do a “rape kit” to get DNA material from the perpetrator that will aid in the legal process. Go to the hospital even if you don’t want to report the assault. You need to be seen by a doctor.
- If you don’t want to report this, it is your choice, for some people don’t want to go through the process of a court hearing (for some, it almost feels like being raped again). But you still need to talk to a trusted adult and be medically checked out for possible STDs or injuries that need to be treated.
- Know that some adults such as teachers, counselors, ministers, and other adults are “mandated reporters” which means they legally have to contact the police and Child Protective Services if you tell them. However, if you decide to report, these people can be very supportive of you.
- Contact an assault/rape support center who can help you with counseling and decisions regarding any legal actions you may wish to pursue. National Victims of Sexual Assault National Victims of Domestic Violence Hotline
You can also seek other counselors who may specialize in sexual trauma.
Emotional Healing From Sexual Abuse
Feelings of fear, hurt, pain, depression, and anxiety are real. No one can heal from them without support. Ways to emotionally heal include the following.
- Don’t blame yourself The perpetrator is at fault for what happened, not you. Even if you were wearing tight clothes, flirting, were intoxicated and couldn’t give permission, it is not your fault. Clothing and flirting and your being impaired by alcohol are not excuses for someone to abuse you.
- Do not feel guilty if you had a positive sexual response. Some victims, even when being assaulted, may feel sexual feelings or may orgasm which makes them feel guilty. This is not about whether you wanted to be victimized; it’s about how the body may naturally respond to sexual stimuli.
- Don’t act on your negative feelings Feelings can’t be fixed by drinking or drugging, or self-harm behaviors such as cutting and burning, harming others as you have been harmed, or other dangerous behaviors. You may even feel suicidal, but you don’t need to act on the feeling – you need to seek help from professionals.
- Use healthy coping skills such as talking to friends, joining a support group, participating in your usual leisure events such as school extra-curricular activities, playing video games, hanging out with friends, journaling, exercising, being creative, and all other healthy activities.
- The healing process will take time so reestablish your routines, give yourself time to grieve and feel sad and angry, and cope with negative thoughts and feelings by letting others know.
Finally, something terrible happened to you. You can’t pretend that it didn’t happen. Don’t feel bad if you feel bad, but know that you don’t have to be stuck with the same feelings all your life. You can be hurt and resilient at the same time. You can also can take charge of your life and your own healing process by finding others who know how to help you heal in healthy ways.
If you need help coping, you can also visit Recovery Guidance the free and safe resource to find addiction and mental health professionals near you.