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

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    Anon,
    I think it really depends on the family and the child. Some people are very private and so yes, in that case, their privacy is very important. In other families there is an openness, for example where there are all sisters or all brothers it seems like they are more comfortable with having people coming in and out I think because they shared the bathroom their entire lives. But in any case, we need to be very mindful of the privacy of others. Agreed.

  • Anon says:

    I don’t care what anyone says- whether they had sexual intent or not, if they come into the bathroom or the child’s bedroom like that while they’re undressing or using the toilet or showering or whatever, just waltz right in, that IS sexual abuse. That angers me greatly. I told my mom as a child (And as a teen, and as a young adult when I still lived at home) that I wanted her to stop coming in but she always had the excuse that there’s only one bathroom in the house and she needs to get in there. Couldn’t she wait till I was done urinating? Geez! What I’m saying is, whether it was sexual in nature or not, it’s still wrong.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    I think that is a good idea. Sometimes it is nice to have a friend you can have a heart-to-heart with. If you would like you could connect with one of our mentors. They are warm, caring people who a very easy to talk to. They have a lot of experience that can be helpful when you are trying to figure things out. Just fill out the Mentor Request Form at http://powertochange.com/experience/talk-to-a-mentor/ and one of them will get in touch with you soon by email. Oh yeah, it’s free so you don’t have to be worried about paying or anything.

    So have you met any friends in your new area? Will you be going to school there this year?

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