Sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual contact. Included within this general term is sexual violence and rape. Rape is forced, unwanted sexual intercourse. Rape can happen to males or females, children or adults or elders, healthy people or people with disabilities. Rape is a crime even if the rapist is an acquaintance, a friend, a member of the family, or even a spouse. Child sexual abuse, or child molestation, is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Child sexual abuse includes child pornography, sexual exposure/voyeurism, sexual exploitation, genital contact, penetration, sexual jokes, or invasive hygienic practices.
Sexual abuse is forced unwanted sexual activity involving the genitals or any other part of the body. Often referred to as sexual assault, sexual abuse is an act of violence; it is not a form of consensual sex * , love, or intimacy. Those who commit sexual abuse may be termed rapists. Rapists are not always mentally ill. Committing a rape is a criminal act. Rape and sexual assault may be committed against men or women, children or elders, wives, husbands, dates, or intimate partners. Many episodes of sexual abuse are never reported to the police. Sexual abuse may be committed by a stranger, but often it is committed by someone known to the victim. Sometimes physical force is used during the abuse. Other times there may be intimidation. The actual abuse can occur when the victim is drugged, drunk, or otherwise unable to respond.
People who have been sexually abused or raped may want to keep the assault secret. They may be upset, confused, and even embarrassed, perhaps mistakenly thinking that they were responsible for the attack. It is important, however, that they go to a clinic or hospital emergency room immediately, before showering or changing clothing. Immediate medical examination is necessary to treat injuries, allow for further medical evaluation, and gather evidence of the crime. Rape kit evidence may include body fluids such as saliva or semen *
One aftereffect of sexual abuse is rape trauma syndrome, a form of posttraumatic stress disorder * . In addition to physical distress, people who have been raped may experience psychological symptoms that can include the following:
The best strategy to reduce the risk of sexual abuse is to begin talking with children and adolescents about appropriate versus inappropriate touching. Parents need to think beyond stranger danger since the vast majority of abusers are people whom the child knows and with whom the child may have a relationship. Children should be encouraged not to keep secrets and to share episodes of inappropriate behavior with their parents. Parents need to emphasize that the child will not be punished for sharing information and that the parent will believe what the child shares.
Parents need to be aware of individuals who may prey upon children as potential victims of sexual abuse. Potential abusers tend to:
Parents also need to be aware of adults who identify the child as being “special” and want to spend one-on-one time alone with the child. Parents are urged to select male role models carefully and to be aware of the environment and people involved with any sleepovers.
Actions to prevent rape include avoiding alcohol and drugs that can lead to irresponsible or dangerous behavior, always discussing sexual activities with a partner, and obtaining agreement with a partner about what will happen. It is also important to let friends or family members know details about a date, such as where the date will take place and the date's name. Others need to speak up or stop a situation whenever they observe abusive sexual behaviors. Programs to prevent rape may involve male mentors counseling young men.
See also Child Abuse • Pedophilia • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) • Puberty and Sexual Development • Trauma
Carpenter, Erin. Life, Reinvented: A Guide to Healing from Sexual Trauma for Survivors and Loved Ones. Denver, CO: Quantum Publishing Group, 2014.
Harding, Kate. Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture–and What We Can Do about It. Boston: Da Capo Press, 2015.
Raphael, Jody. Rape Is Rape: How Denial, Distortion, and Victim Blaming Are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, Inc., 2013.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Sexual Violence.” http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/sexualviolence/index.html (accessed July 7, 2016).
Center for Prevention of Abuse. “Sexual Abuse.” http://www.centerforpreventionofabuse.org/?page_id=1316 (accessed July 7, 2016).
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. “Who Are the Victims?” RAINN.org . https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims (accessed July 7, 2016).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1600 Clifton Rd., Atlanta, GA 30329-4027. Toll-free: 800-232-4636. Website: http://www.cdc.gov (accessed July 7, 2016).
Center for Prevention of Abuse. PO Box 3855, Peoria, IL 61612-3855. Telephone: (309) 691-0551. Website: http://www.centerforpreventionofabuse.org (accessed July 7, 2016).
National Sexual Violence Resource Center. 123 North Enola Dr., Enola, PA 17025. Telephone: 717-909-0710. Website: http://www.nsvrc.org (accessed July 7, 2016)
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. 125 N. Enola Dr., Enola, PA, 17025. Telephone: 717-728-9740. Website: http://www.pcar.org (accessed July 7, 2016).
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. 1220 L Street NW, Suite 505, Washington, DC 20005. Telephone: 202-544-1034. Website: https://www.rainn.org (accessed July 7, 2016).
White Ribbon Campaign. 36 Eglinton Ave. W, Suite 603, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4R 1A1. Telephone: 416-920-6684. Website: http://www.whiteribbon.ca (accessed July 7, 2016).
* consensual sex is sexual activity in which both people freely agree to participate.
* semen (SEE-men) is the spermcontaining whitish fluid produced by the male reproductive tract.
* post-traumatic stress disorder (post-traw-MAT-ik) is a mental disorder that interferes with everyday living and occurs in people who survive a terrifying event, such as school violence, military combat, rape, or a natural disaster.
* coma (KO-ma) is an unconscious state, like a very deep sleep. A person in a coma cannot be awakened, and cannot move, see, speak, or hear.