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

  • Aldo 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 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 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 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 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.

  • Chris Chris Landwerlen says:

    sean…for our lives to go well, we need the blessings of christ in our lives which means receiving him personally into our hearts as we repent of any known sin and asking forgiveness. i encourage you to do that today. realize that a life lived without having jesus as our lord and savior, is a life not worth living. if you want to know more about knowing jesus personally log on at…knowingjesuspersonally.com. blessings!

  • Sean says:

    I have often wondered if I had been sexually abused. My adult life has been difficult. I didn’t dream of this on my own, I’ve had therapists who have asked me point blank. I had to say “I don’t think so” because I don’t. I have no memory of being sexually abused. To be fair, my father used our home as “Ellis Island” when I was a small child and a series of relatives passed through on their way to being legal.

    I also have had other childhood experiences that I know made me feel like I do and I know I don’t remember them all. My father’s second wife made me feel like a total loser, between the ages of 7 and 12. I was an overweight child and she made me feel like less of a person. Now, as 33-year-old adult, I am overly conscious about my weight and appearance even though I’m within normal range now. I’m still conscious of my appearance and I can’t pass a mirror without studying myself in it (it sounds vain, but it’s compulsive). I can remember SOME of what happened in that capacity, but I know I have “misplaced” a lot of my ammo. There is no way that what I remember totals how I feel. I think my issue goes further back, but I am not sure. Maybe NOTHING AT ALL happened to me. I have this constant, nagging feeling that something is wrong with me.

    I’m 33 now. I’ve been married to a woman for nearly 3 years. I lost my virginity at 13. I have dated both men and women. From the ages of 16 to 33, I have had at least 35 sexual partners. Of those 17 years, I spent 13 of them in serious relationships, which led me to rack up most of my numbers in 4 years’ time, with both men and women. As of right now, I couldn’t properly pick out my sexual orientation if you paid me. I guess I’d be bisexual. But my brain is wired strangely.

    I’ll tell you right off the bat that I’m not where I should be. I was always regarded as very smart. I can’t apply it effectively. I’ve been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder. I practically cried when I got an ADHD diagnosis because I hoped it would free me of my chains. The medication they gave me did not — it made me throw up (no, it wasn’t Adderall). None of it fits because the medication never fits. I’ve tried it all. I’m relegated to working in retail making an “OK” hourly wage. I know I should do better, I am capable of it, I think about it every day: but I can’t. BTW, I failed out of college. I was teenage father at 17.

    Sexually, I’m complex. I have a high sex drive that has never been really satisfied by anyone I’ve been with (male or female). If I told my wife how often I masturbate, how I do it or to what — she’d get grossed out. I don’t bring it up, just a simple “We don’t do it as often as I’d like”. It makes her feel wanted and it makes me feel like I’ve said it. I often consider cheating on my wife, but always think better of it. It isn’t HER problem, it is mine. I won’t force my problems on anyone else to harm them, but the temptation is always there for me. Of my 4 serious relationships, I cheated in all of them EXCEPT my marriage (which I took seriously and would never do). My former partners never found out, though.

    In terms of sexual fantasy, I find myself seeking out disturbing tag lines online. Really terrible stuff. The stuff I seek out is when the individuals do not have a choice, this is among other similar but different ideas. A lot of guys imagine themselves in a “porn scene”. I would never. In my head, I’m not good enough to imagine myself with anyone. I don’t fantasize with myself, always other people (that I don’t know).

    I have an acre of private land. When I’m completely alone (which is rare), I jack off totally naked outside in my yard. Like I have something to prove. I know it isn’t appropriate. I still do it and like it. If it means anything, and it might, I’d never regard myself as a “man”. It makes me cringe. I’m not a man. I’m cool if you call me a guy.

    It’s important to note that I have toddlers. I have absolutely ZERO sexual interest in them. I like that, it makes me feel safe. I love them and would never harm them. I just hate how my brain is wired for this constant sexual problem. I’ve slept with WHOMEVER showed an interest and I didn’t find disgusting, I’ve underperformed in terms of life, I’m an alcoholic (did I mention that?), I have a serious sex drive, I fantasize about terrible things (which gets more perverted as time goes on).

    I feel like I need validation because I haven’t gotten anything yet. True, I haven’t discussed much of this with anyone, but I’m afraid to. What the effin hell is wrong with me?

  • Aldo Aldo says:

    Mia, first of all, thank you for recanting that I am an idiot.

    Second, by the prayer I prayed for Val, you can tell that I thought that he was a male, which puts the whole scenario in a different light. Boys that age do have the propensity of investigating and scrutinizing each other, and yes, it usually is mutually consented.

    Third, I did suggest getting some type of professional help, and closed with asking Val to forgive the other boy, which in itself can be a great means by which to acquire release from the nagging memory of an unfortunate incident.

  • Mia says:

    Not idiot, I am sorry, but that was an extremely ignorant and insensitive to say it was “hardly molestation.”

  • Mia says:

    Aldo you’re an idiot. If she was forced and felt violated, it was sexual abuse. END OF STORY. It doesn’t matter how old the kid was, it wasn’t consensual and she didn’t agree to “investigate” with him. Val, that is called child on child molestation, and it was just as wrong and traumatizing as it would’ve been if an adult did it. I recommend talking about it with a counselor who KNOWS that. I am so sorry that that happened to you and I wish you the best in overcoming this hard trial.

  • Aldo Aldo says:

    Val, children that age are prone to investigating and scrutinizing each other. Usually, it is mutually consented to.

    You have stated that the boy who was a year older than you forced you to touch him. That, in itself, can be very ambiguous, or questionable, depending on numerous factors, which you can barely remember.

    From what I can tell, the occurrence can hardly be described as molestation.

    If you are plagued by it now, I suggest you get some type of professional help, but if it just a matter of questioning it, allow it to be “water under the bridge.”

    Pray for and forgive the other boy involved, and ask forgiveness of God for your part in it. He will forgive you, then you need to forgive yourself. Let’s pray:

    Father God, thank You for Your love for Val. A love so great it is unfathomable. Help him to grasp the magnitude of that love. Help him to comprehend the sacrifice You made for him in sending Your Son Jesus Christ to suffer and die for his sins, and the sins of all mankind. Lord, help Val to forgive his boyhood friend and himself, and to wipe that event from his memory so that he is not bothered by it any longer, in Jesus Name. Amen.

  • Val says:

    I can barely remember but I do recall when I was about 6 a boy that was a year older than me forcing me to touch him and him touching me in appropriately in a tent. I don’t know whether you would call that “molest” or not but I am 16 years old now and questioning it all.

  • 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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