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.


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

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    I am sorry that you feel unsure of your dad’s intentions. Has he done that kind of thing before? Why do you think he might have take that further? Were there other people around when he made those inappropriate comments?

    Are there adults in your life that you feel like you can trust? Do you and your mom have a good relationship?

  • kate says:

    my dad is making sexual comments about my chest and looked down at my boobs i cry alot about it even though it was a couple of days ago, do you think he will start doing further things to me?

  • Barbara Alpert Barbara Alpert says:

    Hi Katelyn, It is a beautiful thing to know that your dad is watching out for you in this regard. What would be causing your dad to think this way? Is your boyfriend doing certain things to you that are in appropriate in your father’s eyes?

  • katelyn fahler says:

    My dad thinks my boyfriend is sexually abusing me.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Sarah, that is so hard when people don’t believe you. Sometimes it is a way for them to cover up their own sense of guilt and not being able to protect you from those kinds of experiences. Something you may be able to find in your area is a support group for victims of sexual abuse. You would then have other people to whom you can talk about what happened and together brainstorm ways of dealing with it now. I would also invite you to connect with one of our online mentors. They are safe people to talk to who will come alongside and be a friend as you deal with the hurt and questions. Just fill out the Mentor Request Form at and one of our mentors will get in touch with you by email.

  • Sarah says:


    I just read your comments. It is not your fault at all and you should not feel like you are to blame. I myself can relate to you. I have also been sexually molested around the age of 4 to 5 years of age. I still have nightmares of these incidents. I have also had experiences with my best friend in 5th grade where she felt me up while I was lying in bed staying the night with her. I didnt know what to do so I froze and acted as if I was sleeping. I also had incidents with friends wanting to get undressed and play doctor and nurse when I was 7 to 8 years old. I hated all of it and I blamed myself for everything as well. These experiences led me, at least what I think, to start seeing a man at the age of 20 and marry at 23 and get abused mentally physically and sexually until the age of 28. I divorced him after he raped me for the last time. Even if you are married when you say no that is what it means. Ever since my divorce I have been really messed up. I tryed to repress everything and live my life but after my divorce the bottom really fell out and I started to drink heavily because I didn’t want to think about anything anymore and now I just can’t let anyone close to me. I do not trust anyone and I do not have any friends. I have kept everyone away from me because I just can’t be hurt again. I know I need to seek help for this and when I get health insurance again I will go seek counseling but I really just can’t bring myself to tell anyone. The reason for this is because about three years ago I told my mom everything that happened to include my now ex husband raping me whenever he got drunk and she told me she didnt believe me that anything happened to me as a child and that if it would have then she would have known because I would have acted different. Because of her denial I just havent been able to talk about this until I just read your posting. Maybe we could email each other to chat. I’d like to have a friend and since you have been through similar experiences I think that we could talk. If you would like to do so just message me here. Thanks for reading my posting even though it was really long.


  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Vicky, it is very common for people who have been abused to blame themselves for what other people did to them. Let me say very clearly, it is not your fault! A child is unprepared to respond to situations like this and can be taken advantage of by older more powerful people who prey on their vulnerability. Even the situations with your peers are not your fault, and as you point out, you took actions to stop those encounters with those people.
    Let me encourage you to read Barbara Wilson’s books to discover how she has found healthy ways to deal with her sexual past. You can find a list of her books on her website

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi NNB, what a great story of Jesus helping you experience freedom from the things that have held you captive for so long. It is cool how God has been putting the pieces of the puzzle together and in His perfect time helping you to understand and have the strength to make the necessary changes.

    While I would say that it is entirely possible that you experienced sexual abuse as a young child I don’t think anyone can reassure you that it actually happened in the absence of identifiable memories. Have you talked to any other family members to see if they remember things that happened when you were over at your grandparents’ place? Perhaps they can help you fill in some of the blank memories.

    But let me also suggest that God knows best what you need for healing in your life. It sounds like He has been doing a good job of helping you understand what you need and empowering you to make the necessary changes in your life. Why not put this part of your healing in His hands as well? When He wants you to better understand what happened to you as a child He will bring those memories to your mind. Not only that but He will give you what you need to respond in a healthy way to whatever those events in your life were. I think the words of Jesus are very appropriate for you when He said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow [and I might add for your situation "do not worry about yesterday"], for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34) What has Jesus put in your hands today? Focus on those things, trusting Him to lead you tomorrow into the things He wants for you then.

    Lord God, I pray for NNB and ask that You would continue to lead her healing process. Help her to remember the things that You want her to know about her past and give her trust in you that things unremembered at this point are under Your control as well. Help her to know what it is that You have put in her hands for today and give her peace for those things that You have not. Bless her whole family as they see the transformation that You are accomplishing in her life to recognize You and look to You for that same transformation in their own lives. Amen.

    NNB, Barbara Wilson has written some great books on the subject of healing from your sexual past. I would encourage you to have a look at them. You can find them all at her website

  • vicky says:

    ugh my mind is just fuzzy. it started at 5 and it started in first grade when i was 6.

  • vicky says:

    I am 21 years old now. I’ve always been sexual abuse since i was 5-12. With a few people. It started when i was 6, every year me and my brother would go to California to visit my grandparents and my aunt and uncle. my uncle was around 13 at the time and i remember he would touch me down there and i wouldn’t know what to do except stay still. i would freeze up terrified. he finally stopped after i stay away from him and wouldn’t go near him. A year later i had started kindergarten.. my best friend and her older sis would tell me to play boyfriend/girlfriend with them. they would both kiss me and touch me. and i thought it was normal. I didn’t want to loose my best friend friendship. it went on until 4th grade and she did it once more when i was in 6th but i never let her touch me again after that. And in 6th grade when i moved there was this other girl.. she was the first girl i talked to and well she started getting feelings for me and she would kiss me and try to touch me. i stopped her after that incident happened twice. And when i was in 7th grade my girl cousin kissed me and well i didn’t know what to do. i was frozen. nothing again has happened between me and her again. 2 years later as a freshman, from my other side of the family my boy cousin who is a year older than me would always try to get close to me.. and once tried pulling the bottom of my shirt and was trying to touch my thighs. After that i stayed away from him. I’m ashamed of myself for letting that all happened, i felt like every time i close to someone they would try something with me. I’m always crying its my fault, and i’m just disgust with my friends/ family. i don’t know who to trust anymore. I do sports, i act like nothing has happened. but in reality i’m ashamed. i haven’t had long relationships with guys(which i’m attractive to) i’m just going crazy .. thinking why has this all happened to me? Is this my fault?

  • Andrew Andrew says:

    @Denise in scripture the Bible is very clear as to when sex can occur which is within marriage first off I would be very concerned if I was you if your b/f did not protect you from his friend. Secondly if your are having sexual relations with him I would like to offer you advice and suggest that you no longer have sex with him. The very fact that he would not protect you from his friend and still hangs out with him tells me from a guys point of view that he is not protective of you as if some man would walk into my g/f room and start fondling her I would tell him where to go and how to get there and no longer hang around with him. It tells me that he does not really love you and if he is having sex with you for him it is purely a sexual relationship. I do not wish to be harsh however I know many woman fool themselves in thinking the man cares for her when often all he wishes for is sex. I suggest that you speak with a Godly woman and ask her for her advice as she would be able to give you insights as for me from a man’s point of view if a friend of mine sexually abused my g/f and if I did nothing about it would mean that I don’t really care for her.

  • NNB says:


    I am a strong believer in Jesus. Recently God has been revealing to me “bondage” from when I was possibly sexually abused by my grandfather and grandmother. I believe I was anywhere from an infant to 4 years old when it happened. Both of them were severely abusive and severe alcoholics with a lot of abuse in there lives. It was a horrible environment that my mother was raised in! It was just passed down to my grandparents from there parents..

    My reasons for believing I might of been abused at such a young age, I am having such a hard to accepting this actually happened to me because my memories are almost completely gone until about 7 or 8 yrs old.

    I remember I knew how to touch my self sexually around the time I entered Kindergarten. I would “touch” myself in school secretly during class.. or any place I could hide it, and I did it often, all the way to my adult hood. Through growing up my sexuality would only get worse and more perverted. Things I did I don’t care to mention , which never involved harming anyone. But what I would do I would not consider normal for my age or any age.

    I often suffered from severe depression, crying myself to sleep almost every night.. through age I found it harder to fall asleep or control my emotions. Every counselor said I was “Bi polar” Which now I don’t agree with. I often suffered from headaches, and dizzy spells, and bladder infections. I peed in my bed til I was 8 yrs old. I was very anti social and shy, and I had a hard time staying in school and making friends.
    I had sex for the first time ” at least I thought was the first time” at age 13 with a 27 yr old man, I don’t remember it hurting or bleeding as if your first time you would. I had sex with a 40 yr old at age 14. My sexuality just increased and I had sex with any guy I liked and I felt I would please them by having sex with them.. When I turned 18 I became an escort girl and had sex for money and I didn’t care who it was..
    When I got pregnant, I stayed with my my now current husband. We have had 4 children together and there were periods in my life where everything seemed normal. Then I had my last two children and I would get flash backs or images in my head to molest my own child, these images upset me and disturbed me, I would never do that to my children! I have been using Marijuana as a medicine to numb my emotions for the past 5 years. I was put on anti depressants at 13 until I was 17 and I couldn’t take it anymore, I disliked modern medicine and how it made me feel. Marijuana was the most natural and harmless substance I could use to numb myself. The more my family comes closer to God, the more he has been showing us our bondage and freeing me of my addictions. I just feel like I am putting these pieces together for one big puzzle.. and I am basically looking for reassurance that sexual abuse could of happened to me as a young child..any thoughts? I have just been praying that the lord gives me dreams to interpret as confirmation. He just keeps directing me to awareness.. and bringing this out in the light. I am also scared that I don’t want to remember or know the truth! But to bring it to light I have to know the truth…

Leave a Reply

Start a Conversation


Image for What Do You Fear?What Do You Fear?

What do you fear, and why? Is it holding you back from realizing your full potential?

Image for A Few Good ReadsA Few Good Reads

Our editor’s picks for some must read books.


Latest Comments