Recognize and Find Support for Sexual Abuse
What Is Sexual Abuse?
The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as any “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.”
How Common is Sexual Abuse?
Unfortunately, it’s quite common in the United States. National Center for Victims of Crime provides the following statistics:
- 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse
- 28% of youth ages 14 to 17 report having been sexually victimized at some time in their lives
- Self-report studies show that 20 percent of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault incident
Rape & Crisis Victim Hotline
For women or men who are victims/survivors of sexual assault, regardless of when event happened; family members may call (Women’s Center).
Youth Crisis Hotline
Text CONNECT to 741-741
Who Commits Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abusers can be found in every race and sociodemographic group. Both males and females can commit sexual abuse, and people of all ages can be perpetrators. However, sexual abusers are people who are in a position of trust or authority, such as a family member, caregiver, teacher, coach, or clergy member. In addition, older children can abuse younger children.
Most significant, the vast majority of victims know their abusers. In 2003, the National Institute of Justice reported that 3 out of 4 adolescent sexual assault victims knew the perpetrator.
Who Are the Victims of Sexual Abuse?
When we talk about sexual abuse, we often think about the children being targeted. This is certainly a concern; according to one study, approximately 70 percent of victims are age 17 or younger. However, almost anyone can be a victim of sexual abuse. Other groups of victims are:
- The elderly
- People with disabilities or mental illness
- Medical patients
- Members of the military
Therefore, children and teens are frequent victims. Likewise, children who do not live with both parents or children living in severely dysfunctional homes are at a significantly greater risk of sexual abuse. However, adults can also become victims of sexual abuse.
What are the Different Types of Sexual Abuse?
Some of the most common forms of sexual abuse are:
Child sexual abuse: Any sexual act done to a child or teen. Read our article on rape recovery.
Incest: Sexual contact from a family member
Relationship Sexual Violence: When an intimate partner commits some type of unwanted sexual act on his or her partner. Read our article on domestic violence.
Drug-facilitated assault: Abuse that is committed after the victim has been drugged or had too much to drink.
Non-contact abuse: This includes things such as voyeurism, exposure, pornography, and communication on the phone or internet.
What Are the Effects of Sexual Abuse?
The trauma of sexual assault can impact someone in many ways. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network identifies several potential consequences, including:
- Flashbacks and/or panic attacks
- Sleeping and/or eating disorders
- Mental health issues, including depression and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Substance abuse
- Self-harm and/or suicide
- Pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted infections
Sexual abuse survivors may struggle with guilt or shame. They may feel like they did something to “deserve” the abuse, or that they should have done something to stop it. Every person who has been sexually abused should understand. In addition, the victim of sexual abuse is NEVER to blame for what has happened. Take our short quiz, Are Your Depressed?
What are the Long-term Effects for Children Who Have Been Sexually Abused?
Child victims are more likely to have behavioral issues such as aggression and have difficulty in school. As they get older, the abuse victims are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. And when they are adults, they are at a greater risk of again being sexually abused.
Most disturbing, children who have been sexually abused are at risk of perpetuating the cycle. According to some studies, about one-third of people who are abused in childhood will go on to become abusers themselves.
How Do I Recover from Sexual Abuse?
If you have been the victim of sexual abuse, there are several steps you can take to being the process of healing:
Acknowledge what has happened.
Tell a trusted family member or friend what has happened. Report it to the police. If appropriate, go to the hospital. Childhelp has a nationwide hotline for victims of child abuse, 800-422-4453. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) also has a 24-hour hotline number, 800-656-4673.
Acknowledge your feelings.
Survivors of sexual abuse respond in a variety of ways. You may be feeling shock, shame, anger, guilt, or isolation. You may be feeling completely devastated—or completely numb. Similarly, maybe you are feeling a mixture of all these emotions. And you may be wondering if you will ever recover. Remember that there is no “correct way” for the victim of sexual violence to feel. The important thing is that you find support. Take our short quiz, How Well Do You Bounce Back?
Share your feelings.
Talk with trusted friends and family members. One of the most effective things you can do is find a skilled therapist who is experienced in helping people who have been sexually assaulted. In addition, you can also look for support groups that meet in person or online. In addition, some therapists suggest journaling or writing a letter to your abuser (although it usually is not a good idea to mail the letter).
Learn about surviving sexual abuse. The Take Back the Night Foundation has assembled several stories from survivors of sexual abuse and sexual violence.
Do not minimize the trauma of what you have been through. Therapists suggest you do healthy activities that can help you feel better, like taking warm baths, gentle exercise, or spending time with friends. Be sure to get plenty of rest and have a good diet. Above all, look for the things that work for you, and remember that healing is a process, not an act. Do our short activity, Looking for Good.
What Services are Available in Tarrant County for Victims of Sexual Abuse?
- The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services investigates reports of child abuse and helps place children in foster care.
- The Women’s Center has a 24-hour crisis hotline, 817-927-2737.
- Alliance for Children provides counseling services for victims of child abuse and has four locations in Tarrant County. Fort Worth number: 817-335-7172.
Surviving Sexual Abuse is Part of Maintaining Mental Health
The process of healing from sexual abuse can be slow. But with time, work, and support, you can move past it and regain your life. In conclusion, this also is part of protecting your mental health. If you or someone you know has been the victim, we encourage you to take action today. In addition, anyone can move from being a victim of sexual abuse to a survivor.