How Do I Know if I’ve Been Sexually Abused?

Written by Barbara Wilson

Sexual abuse has a broader definition than we may assume. There are four types of sexual abuse: verbal, visual, physical and psychological.

Verbal sexual abuse includes sexual threats, sexual comments about your body, lewd or suggestive comments and inappropriate sexual conversations with children.

Visual sexual abuse includes exposure to pornographic, sexually explicit material or scenes, exhibitionism, and voyeurism.

Physical sexual abuse is much broader than intercourse. It also includes touching that is intended to arouse the victim or abuser.  It can include forced, unforced or simulated sex, sexual touch, and/or intercourse.

Psychological sexual abuse is less obvious, and more difficult to discern. It usually involves having an adult who violates a child’s privacy during bathing or dressing activities, especially an older child who is capable of doing this on their own.

An adult that walks in unasked or announced while a child is in the bathroom, or getting dressed in their room and who proceeds to inappropriately watch them, is a form of sexual abuse. It is much harder to discern because to do so you’d need to know the intent of the adult. But even when children or young adults sense that the intent of the intrusion is sexual in nature, they would have a hard time proving it, especially as the adult could deny any inappropriate intent. Another form of psychological sexual abuse is when a parent uses the child or young adult as a surrogate mate sharing their intimate needs or desires with them, or using the child to meet their emotional needs rather than a spouse.

For further reading in this series:

Childhood Sexual Abuse: How the past affects the present
Why do I feel this way?
How do I know if I need healing?
Why do I struggle with sexual intimacy?
How can I heal from my sexual past 

Would you like to talk to a mentor? Just use this form and you’ll get a personal, private response from your mentor, usually within a couple of days.  Can we pray for you?

Recommended Reading:

On The Threshold of Hope by:  Diane Langberg
The Wounded HeartHope For Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by:  Dan Allender
List of Barbara’s Books  Barbara covers many issues in her books including Sexual Abuse and much more.


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128 Responses to “How Do I Know if I’ve Been Sexually Abused?”

  • Alfred says:

    Dear Leeah, those were quite some nights you had on the couch with that young man! I’m glad to know that you have not seen him since, so he had no opportunity to get even closer to you. What he did was definitely sexual abuse, both physically and psychologically, as described in the article above. Rubbing your thighs and touching your panties was an invasion of your privacy, and you had full right to feel threatened! Yet you say that in a way it felt good, but somehow you knew he was going much too far. Sin is sometimes so pleasant and attractive that we like it, yet in the end it leads to sorrow and pain.
    God gave you a wonderful human body. Parts of it are so special that no one except your spouse should see or touch them! The Bible says that sex of any kind is only for people who are married to one-another. For your own Spiritual health, I’d say, forgive this man and say to yourself that it was a lesson in learning to take care of yourself (in that something like that doesn’t ever happen again – to you or to your children). For yourself, I’d say, you were so young and too vulnerable to oppose him; so, forgive yourself. Ask God to help you that this experience will not take away any joy from your adult sex-life with your husband.
    Hi Wefny, I agree that this experience with the boys was merely “children discovering the difference between sexes”. You were all young enough to find it interesting but not threatening. Like you say, it never happened again, so there was no harm to anyone. A few may disagree with me, but I’d say it was insignificant, and there is no benefit in blaming your brother or anyone else.
    Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for making the human body so special. We have a charge to take care of it, and ask you to help us daily so we do not desecrate it in any way. May we be an example to the next generation as to how to act in modesty and live in purity. I pray for our homes, that they be places where Your Word is read and obeyed. May the Holy Spirit guide us to pass on our faith in an ever-changing world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

  • wefny says:

    I don’t no if this would be serial abuse or not. This memory only came back a few weeks ago and I can’t remember it all. Anyway what happend was when I was younger me and older brother,older cousin (they are about the same age) and my other cousin (female) about my age were playing.now all I remember is that some how we end up lying on a bed and none of us had bottoms on and the boys got us to spread our legs and then rub the things against our bits.all I remember is at the time we were happy to go along with it. I don’t remember what ages I was but I would guess 5 or 6 witch would make my brother about 9 or10. As we were all happy with it I don’t no what to think. I also only happend once and I don’t no my brother was old enough to no he was doing something wrong. Like if he had walked in on my mum and dad having see maybe they told him they were playing and he thought he was just playing to. I don’t no what to do as I don’t want to say anything and ruin his life if I am wrong Help!!!!!!?

  • Leeah says:

    When I was 14,I stayed a few nights at my cousin’s house. He had a friend staying there who was 22 at the time. This friend was extremely nice to me, talked to me, hung out with me, and made me feel like I wasn’t just some dumb kid.My second night there, this friend and I were bickering over who would get to sleep on the couch. He pretended to fall asleep before I did so that no one could move him. I went ahead & laid at the other end. St some point in the night, I woke up to him rubbing my feet, as I guess I may have pushed my feet against him in my sleep. I felt a little uncomfortable and tried to pull my foot away, but he wouldn’t let me. Since he wasn’t doing anything “bad”, I shrugged it off & went back to sleep. The next night, we were both on the couch again, except this time, he didn’t wait until I fell asleep to start rubbing my feet. It felt so good, I let myself relax & slid my legs across his lap. He then began rubbing my calves, which was fine, but then, be was rubbing my thighs as well and tugging on my shorts. At first, I was so shocked, I just froze. Then I got scared because I thought maybe if I resisted, he may try to hurt me. He eventually took off my shorts & when he took my panties off, even though I was scared, I could feel myself getting excited. He touched me for a while and the whole time I was thinking I should say something, but I was confused because I liked it & I was afraid of what he might do if I tried to stop him. The next night, he did the exact same thing and even caused me to orgasm. He then stuck my hands down his pants and guided me into giving him oral sex. I knew that, as an adult, he should not be doing these things with me, but I was excited by the feelings and flattered by his attention. I never saw or spoke to him again after that. I’m not sure if this would be considered abuse or not?

  • Chris says:

    anon…well one thing is for sure, that neither you nor anyone else has to put up with any type of touching that isnt to your liking. be Frank with your cousin or let your parents know that you would rather not be touched or taken anywhere you dont want to go with him. our free wills are Gods gift to us. noone has the right to violate those. blessings to you!

  • anon... says:

    hi well i was wondering if anybody could tell if somebody i know is a molestor. Today i was at a family gathering and my cousin who is alot older then me always seems more interested in playing with the kids then all the adults. And also he always tried to touch me but not in a bad way but like putting his hands on my shoulds, tickling me, and hugging me.. ALOT. and whenever he comes over to my house it seems like he always wants to take me to the park or get icecream or something i mean i dont know if hes just being friendly or something else so if anybody knows thanks :)

  • anon says:

    hi well i was wondering if anybody could tell if somebody i know is a molestor. Today i was at a family gathering and my cousin who is alot older then me always seems more interested in playing with the kids then all the adults. And also he always tried to touch me but not in a bad way but like putting his hands on my shoulds, tickling me, and hugging me.. ALOT. and whenever he comes over to my house it seems like he always wants to take me to the park or get icecream or something i mean i dont know if hes just being friendly or something else so if anybody knows thanks :)

  • Aldo says:

    Me, I like Chris, am sorry to hear about your marital and family struggles. The best I can suggest is that you flood heaven with prayer from whatever Christian source you can think of. Church prayer groups, Bible Study Prayer Lists, TV and Radio call-in programs- such as 100 Huntley St, The 700 Club, TBN.org., Christian family, friends, and neighbors, Christian book and tract suppliers- such as Good News Gospel Tracts, American Tract Society, and Gospel Tract Society.

    You can also go to Facebook.com, and Jesus Daily, and ask any and all Christians to lift you and your family up in prayer.

    One other thing I suggest you do is go the following website: http://powertochange.com/discover/need-prayer/. From there you will be forwarded to a prayer mentor who will discuss your situation, and be happy to pray with you about it. Let’s pray:

    Heavenly Father, You know Me’s plight. You sent Jesus Christ into the world so that she could cast all her cares on Him, for He cares for her and her children. He even cares for her ex-husband, as bad and evil as he is, and would like to save his soul. Father, grant Me the fortitude it requires to see this situation resolved, and come to an end. Touch her and her children with Your precious and powerful Holy Spirit, and bring them to good health. Restore to them all that the enemy has stolen and destroyed, and bring them to a place of peace in You, in Jesus Name I pray. Amen.

  • Chris says:

    me…i am sorry to hear about your marital and family struggles. thankfully we do have a God of justice and laws in place to refrain people like your husband from continuing their evil. you mention a court case so i assume the process of justice has reached a point of judgment and is working in your favor. we pray that jesus help you stand firm for the truth and that his defense be in your favor. though at times Gods answers seems to be delayed, habakkuk chapter 2 encourages us to hold fast and stand firm, knowing that God will not permit us more than we can bear. 1 cor 10.13. all things will work out for your good as you are called according to his purpose of witnessing to a Christian life not void of suffering, but one that conquers through it. romans 8.28. jesus bless you with his power today!

  • me says:

    Hi, I am a Mother of 4 and have some stuff I am very confused how to handle! I have an ex that has been very abusive, when my children were younger he was a heroin addict and spent much of his time in and out of the relationship and their lives.We both became Christians at the same time and became clean and sober at the same time.Later he started to become very abusive especially when I became a Christian, he would rip my bible up and constantly threaten to leave the relationship, he punched me in the face and told me I should be worshipping him. He constantly cheated on me and I spent most of the time praying and spending time with God to be strengthened to know what to do.It was not so easy to just leave because as long as he was not living with me he could take the children wherever he partied and legally I could not do anything about it, no matter what! I tried so hard to do everything perfect, I was so devastated..Most times if my daughter went with him she would come home with horror stories of who he was with and what he did petrified her.There were times when he would come and get our 2 year old son and right in front of me he would throw the car seat in the back, and throw him in the front and drive off recklessly making me think he was trying to kill him, that’s when I would scream in terror and pray helplessly. The police could not help me and I had no family, the church had no understanding of abuse and really could not even listen to me without judgement! The years went on and he put the children through sheer terror.I tried getting us Christian counselling because I stopped letting the kids go with him and tried to get him to see them at my home and cook him dinner etc.he caught on and demanded they come to his place, during counselling they just believed everything he said( he really knew how to talk) and told me I had to let him take the kids or I was a jezebel.Eventually they went and my oldest daughter phoned crying because my ex took away my 4 year old son and she was forced to stay with teens having sex and drunk in the next room we stayed on the phone all night while I prayed, I had a new born baby and did not drive I lived in poverty so I could not go get her. he finally brought them home and he stopped asking for them for a while until he met a girl and then he was taking me to court.They made life so unbearable and harassed me constantly,I would not let him take the kids.The courts were siding with him and allowed him to harass me in the court room, and send me home with police escorts.He was on Heroin and cocaine!! My son when he was 5 in the middle of the court case told me his Father touched him sexually, I was so petrified I knew what was going to happen but I had to confront it..They racked me through the coals,I was so traumatized I just wanted to die, but my son would not stop saying he did it and I knew I had to fight to protect him..They allowed supervised visits but my son would not allow me to take his diaper off to go for the visits, when he got there finally he would not let anyone take his seatbelt off and stayed in the car, at one point I do not know if it was on purpose but he took the cord for the blinds wrapped it around his neck and jumped off the window sill and I thought I was going to have a nervous break down. eventually they gave him custody but he refused it and said he did not want it and they could find him when they got older..They did not find physical evidence of the sexual abuse but my son insisted even though I bit my tongue out of sheer fear and acted like it was ok to go to see him at the supervised visits but he still insisted he was telling the truth.. The kids and I spent the next 10 years struggling with PTSD! He came back to town 4 years ago but my son said he didn’t do it,( later I found out the only reason why he said that was because he was confused:my sons words.”) so we thought oh my gosh look he is clean and sober, he became a Christian maybe now things can be good.he began to say I was stalking him and played games telling the church to leave as soon as they saw me! My son went into drugs and a gang, and the whole family was re traumatized.My ex became a Pastor, one day while driving by we said he was the antichrist to ourselves and he heard (it was not wise but sometimes you say stupid things to cope.)he started sending the cops to my home saying my oldest daughter and I were harassing him and he didn’t want anything to do with us only the younger ones. He was believed and we were yelled at by the cops.My son was very confused but started having flash backs of being brought into a room with his Father and he would go in a rage but doesn’t remember anything.. My son would go in a rage and for 3 years he has been struggling in gangs and on oxy. He’s been finally clean for around 47 days out at his girlfriends Father’s house and has been convinced by them to get in touch with his Father (they have no idea of what happened in the past,he won’t share his personal issues)I am scared for him to do this because of what may happen and because just recently last May my ex’s new wife was pretending I was harassing her and said she was going to get a restraining order on me even though they decided to move 1/2 A block away from my kids school, I have never spoken to her in any way especially since he sent the cops I make sure I try to stay away as much as possible.. In the past he has tried to run me down with his car with my daughter in my arms and I recently found out that when we were going to court he was involved with a drug cartel and when he was accused of sexual abuse he shaved his head completely bald.. In the past he had been sexually abused and admitted to touching a young baby that was 2 years when he was around 12 he wasn’t happy with himself but he admitted it to me though! I am scared and think my son was abused but these cases are so fragile, he has told many lies to the congregation about me and I feel like he uses his title to make it seem like he is innocent, his gifting is preaching and talking so he always appears very convincing when he talks, he has no conscience he could lie right in front of you and keep a straight face,even though you just watched him do something he’s now lying about right in front of you, it’s so bizarre..I am scared and angry I have just been through too much I can’t take any more..My son does not remember too much and does not like to talk about things and is considering having him in his life.Many have complained about him being abusive but his leaders do not listen and expect others to give him a chance I was told it’s so weird!Please help me, my son has sever PTSD, he has no nails from biting them down so much, he rages you can’t talk to him about anything but he does feel bad for his actions, he’s so rejected by the church, and I have been so alienated from my own PTSD his father has been so surrounded and taken in I just can’t seem to find real help and support..Where is God and why does he allow this?

  • Aldo says:

    Lele, I suggest that you visit the website below.

    There you will be forwarded to a Christian woman mentor, with whom you will be able to discuss this matter in privacy.

    Here is the website. http://powertochange.com/discover/talk-to-a-mentor/. Please Copy it, and Paste it into your web browser address bar.

  • Aldo says:

    Anonanom, Yes, it could be possible that both you and your sister could have been sexually abused.

    I suggest that you visit the below website.

    There you will be forwarded to a Christian woman mentor, with whom you will be able to discuss this matter in privacy.

    Here is the website. http://powertochange.com/discover/talk-to-a-mentor/. Please Copy it, and Paste it into your web browser address bar.

  • Aldo says:

    Maddie, I am sorry to hear about your experience when you were younger, and I suggest that you visit the below website.

    There you will be forwarded to a Christian woman mentor, with whom you will be able to discuss this matter in privacy.

    Here is the website. http://powertochange.com/discover/talk-to-a-mentor/. Please Copy it, and Paste it into your web browser address bar.

  • maddie says:

    In have faint memorys of being sexually abused by ethier my father or his friend who was convicted of rape not to long ago….it could be both
    Im scared to look into it
    But I remember something happening when I was at the age of five I am 13 now and I’m pretty messed up on the inside and I’m wondering is that why
    How can you tell!?

  • Lele says:

    Hello,I am here because I do not know if I was ever sexually abused. As I child at 8 years old & younger I was very curious about sex. So I would start touching adult males’ genatiles in my family. For some reason I loved doing it & my dad would let me do it when he was talking on the phone, but he would stop me if I tried to pull it out his pants, but he would let me continue to play with him there if I didn’t expose his private part. Our relationship was weird, I would take baths with him & he never touched me at all. The thing is with my sibling which confuses me, I love him a lot ’til this day, but I have this fuzzy memory in my head about what happened to me when I was younger. We would play games together a lot, & I thought this was a game. I don’t remember how it really happened, but I was curious. I went under the sheet & started touching his private & he asked me if I wanted to taste or smell it. Can’t remember which one…I don’t know if I put my mouth towards it or not. All I know that whatever I did was bad. However, he never touched me. He allowed me to touch him, I was either 7 or 8 & he must have been 17 & older. I knew we did something bad, because when our parents called us to come here. We ran out the room to see what they wanted. I’m really confused & I don’t know if it was real or not. Why would my sibling do this? BTW, I’m 18 years old now.

  • Anonanom says:

    My sister and I have both had this weird feeling that we may have been sexually abused some way as kids. We didn’t get this feeling until recently (we are 17(me) and 21(her)) when we were talking about our child hood and we both realized that we barely remember most of it or one of us remembers one thing the other doesn’t. we suspect we could be repressing some memories but can’t be sure. Our parents didn’t nessasarily abuse us but we always felt alone or unloved and I myself have a fear of my father because he used to get mad and yell and sometimes become violent but i dont remember ever being hit by him. my mother did smack me a bit if i misbehaved (i have ADHD so i was a bit more energetic than most) but it never hurt or left bruises. Also when i was younger (4-7ish) i used to have dreams about being raped by older men (firemen, utility workers, random older men, etc) but i never stayed asleep for the actual rape part i always woke up. they really freaked me out and i sometimes still get them but now they involve boys i do know. sometimes when i suspect a boy might have a crush on me i will have a dream about him sexually abusing me and after i will push him away and get freaked out for a bit. I also have trouble trusting anybody and i feel a bit paranoid. im also insecure about my body. the first serious boyfriend i had liked to touch my boobs alot and i felt extremely insecure and the more he explored my body i felt more and more ashamed of it and felt i had to hide my face when he did this idk if thats normal. im also a very sexual person but i feel its normal for someone of my age but as a kid i was very sexual i pressured one of my friends to kiss me because i knew she was weak and would give in. i didnt like her or anything but sometimes i would just get urges too i guess. im also uncomfortable around boys who are in grade school, especially my friends younger 10 year old brother. i was fine around him until she told me he had a little crush on me. i realize it was totally innocent but ever since im freaked out whenever he touches me or is nice to me or tries to be affectionate. im very close to her whole family (they even make jokes about addopting me) so he’s like a little brother to me.

    anyway sorry this is super long but i guess im wondering if it’s possible i could have been sexually abused and maybe why i get freaked out by boys and have rape dreams

  • Aldo says:

    Kate, here is a definition of Sexual Assault according to Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia:

    “In the United States, the definition of sexual assault varies widely between the individual states. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network defines sexual assault as “unwanted sexual contact that stops short of rape or attempted rape. This includes sexual touching and fondling.”

  • Kate says:

    So I just turned 18 and a friend and I decided to go to a not so safe area to go record shopping and then to the boardwalk.
    Anyway, we’re walking and we see a group of kids significantly younger than me walking toward us. I didn’t think much of it because they were kids. We waited for the light to change and I heard one of them say “Lemme hit that.” to me. I didn’t answer and then after the third time he came up to me and said it again. Mind you I was in a different area. I said no and he proceeded to touch my butt along with one of his friends. I snapped at him and told him to get out and they ran away. Is it sexual assault? I’ve been wracking my brain about this and I feel super uncomfortable.

  • Aldo says:

    Sean, first, let me say that Chris gave you some very good advice. I agree with him having experienced a troubled life myself, and having done exactly what he suggests you do. It brought the freedom which I believe you are seeking.

    Also, you may want to try going to the website he suggested: knowingjesuspersonally.com. From there you can be directed to a mentor who will work with you in finding a solution to your problem.

    It’s all free, so you have nothing to lose, but everything to gain.

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