What is Sexual Abuse

What is Sexual Abuse

Written By Wendy M. Johnson | @WendyMJohnson7

Sexual Abuse | 9 Min Read

Serious woman partrait
Many survivors of sexual abuse experienced other forms of abuse. Sexual abuse is not usually an isolated abuse type.


Defining and understanding what you have experienced can empower you to stop the vicious cycle of sexual abuse. Many people question if what happened to them was sexual abuse. It is difficult to heal from something that you are unable to identify or understand how it affected you. You have used coping strategies your whole life to deal with the abuse; as an adult, you will need new ones.

When you have been abused, you might find yourself repeating, subconsciously, the experience of being a victim. Not so much sexual abuse but finding yourself in a victim role in relationships. This phenomenon may occur because somewhere inside of you, you may feel unworthy of healthy, loving relationships, due to the abuse. It is hard to feel worthy of something you may have never experienced before.

Effects of Sexual Abuse

If you experienced abuse for years as a child, it could affect many areas of your adult life. If you were assaulted even one time, people may underestimate or minimize the abuse effects on your life. A victim who experienced sexual abuse for years or once can feel damaged, used, broken, may battle with depression, experience low self-esteem, be diagnosed with PTSD, suffer from eating disorders, or battle with suicidal tendencies. A victim of sexual abuse can experience shame, blame, and stigmas that stop them from reaching out for help.

Sexual abuse can have a detrimental impact on a victim’s life if they do not seek help or education. Fortunately, there are resources for survivors and at HEAL you can reach out anonymously and get the help you need. The definitions below are directly from the HEAL book. These definitions are not exhaustive but do give an overview of the definition. These definitions also do not necessarily reflect legal definitions as each state has its own legal definition.

Sexual Abuse encompasses many types of sex crimes. Sexual abuse may be associated with other abuses such as domestic violence. Many people think sexual abuse must involve intercourse. In their mind they believe an adult having intercourse with a child is wrong and undermines any other type of sexual abuse. They justify if an adult touched the child in any way other than having intercourse then it is an excusable offense. These people perpetuate the cycle of sexual abuse and tend to make excuses for the perpetrator. They may actually walk-in on an abusive situation and dismiss it immediately.

What is Child Sexual Abuse

Child Sexual Abuse is:

“Child sexual abuse does not need to include physical contact between a perpetrator and a child. Some forms of child sexual abuse include exposing oneself to a minor, touching, intercourse, masturbation in the presence of a minor or forcing the minor to masturbate, obscene phone calls, text messages, or digital interaction, producing, owning, or sharing pornographic images or movies of children, sex of any kind with a minor, including vaginal, oral or anal, sex trafficking and any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child’s mental, emotional or physical welfare” (RAINN, 2019). Sexual abuse can happen from a family member or non-family member. Sexual abuse happens 93% of the time by someone the victim knows and rarely happens by a stranger (RAINN, 2019).

What is Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault is:

The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include attempted rape, fondling or unwanted sexual touching, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts (such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body), and penetration of the victim’s body (rape) (RAINN, 2019).

What is Rape

Rape is:

There are many forms of rape. Rape includes stranger rape, date rape, acquaintance rape, and marital rape. The FBI defines rape as, “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim” (DOJ, 2018).

What is Child Pornography

Child Pornography is:

“Child pornography is a form of child sexual exploitation. Federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (persons less than 18 years old). Child pornography is pictures of sexual abuse. The production of child pornography creates a permanent record of a child’s sexual abuse. When the images are placed on the Internet and released online, the victimization of the children continues in forever” (DOJ, 2018).

“Experts and victims agree that victims depicted in child pornography often suffer a lifetime of revictimization by knowing the images of their sexual abuse are on the Internet forever. The children exploited in these images must live with the permanency, longevity, and circulation of such a record of their sexual victimization. This often creates lasting psychological damage to the child, including disruptions in sexual development, self-image, and developing trusting relationships with others in the future” (DOJ, 2018).

What is Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence is:

The United States Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone” (DOJ, 2019).

Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. Sexual abuse and domestic violence affect people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Sexual abuse and domestic violence occur in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships and can happen with intimate partners who are married, living together, or dating (DOJ, 2019).

Domestic violence not only affects those who are abused but also has a substantial effect on family members, friends, co-workers, other witnesses, and the community at large. Children who grow up witnessing domestic violence are among those seriously affected by the crime. Frequent exposure to violence in the home not only predisposes children to numerous social and physical problems but also teaches them that violence is a normal way of life. Exposure to violence increases a child’s risk of becoming society’s next generation of victims and abusers (DOJ, 2018).

What is Physical Abuse

Physical Abuse is:

Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, etc. are types of physical abuse. Hitting a child with an object such as a belt, rope, spoon, etc. This type of abuse also includes denying a partner medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use upon him or her.

What is Emotion Abuse

Emotional Abuse is:

Undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem is abusive. Emotional abuse includes, but is not limited to, constant criticism, diminishing someone’s abilities, name-calling, or damaging someone’s relationship with his or her children.

What is Economic Abuse

Economic Abuse is:

Making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding someone’s access to money, or forbidding someone’s attendance at school or employment.

What is Psychological Abuse

Psychological Abuse is:

Elements of psychological abuse include, but are not limited to, causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work (FDV, 2018)(WCCS, 2018)

What is Neglect

Neglect is:

The failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregivers to provide for a child’s basic needs is neglect. Neglect may be: physical (e.g., failure to provide necessary food, shelter, or appropriate supervision), medical (e.g., failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment), educational (e.g., failure to educate a child or to not attend to special education needs), emotional (e.g., inattention to a child’s emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs). Sometimes cultural values, the standards of care in the community, and poverty may contribute to maltreatment, indicating that the family is in need of information or assistance (CW, 2018).

What is Abandonment

Abandonment is:

Many states define abandonment as “a form of neglect. A child is considered abandoned when the parent’s identity or whereabouts are unknown, the child has been left alone in circumstances where the child suffers serious harm, or the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or provide reasonable support for a specified period of time.”


Defining your experience matters. If you can define it, you can heal from it. In dealing with issues of abuse, everyone moves at a different pace. The most important principle you can learn is safety. It is important to learn how to pace yourself in the healing process and to learn the coping skills that you need along the journey. The good news is that as an adult, you have many choices available to help process your past emotions of being abused.

You can join our HEAL community to help guide you through your healing journey. Also, always remember to journal. It is hard to journal at first because it makes the abuse more real but if you have not yet, give it a try and start writing down the different abuses you may have experienced, and let’s work together at helping you find the inner strength you need to heal. As always, please share your breakthroughs! I love hearing from you!

Love and Friends,


Date: July 8, 2022

Ever imagine what it would be like to live a life without shame?
Join the HEAL community today. 🎉

[1] What Is Child Sexual Abuse.” RAINN, 11 May 2019, http://www.rainn.org/articles/child-sexual-abuse.
[2] What Is Child Sexual Abuse.” RAINN, 11 May 2019, http://www.rainn.org/articles/child-sexual-abuse.
[3] “Sexual Assault.” RAINN, 11 May 2018, from https://www.rainn.org/articles/sexual-assault.
[4] “Definition of Rape.” The United States Department of Justice Archives, 11 May 2018, http://www.justice.gov/archives/ovw/blog/updated-definition-rape.
[5] “Child Pornography.” The United State Department of Justice, 11 May 2018, http://www.justice.gov/criminal-ceos/child-pornography.
[6] “OJP Fact Sheet – Domestic Violence.” U.S. Department of Justice – Office of Justice Programs, 11 May 2018, https://ojp.gov/newsroom/factsheets/ojpfs_domesticviolence.html.
[7] “OJP Fact Sheet – Domestic Violence.” U.S. Department of Justice – Office of Justice Programs, 11 May 2018, https://ojp.gov/newsroom/factsheets/ojpfs_domesticviolence.html.
[8] “OJP Fact Sheet – Domestic Violence.” U.S. Department of Justice – Office of Justice Programs, 11 May 2018, https://ojp.gov/newsroom/factsheets/ojpfs_domesticviolence.html
[9] “Forms of Domestic Violence.” Legal Dictionary, 11 May 2018, legaldictionary.net/domestic-violence/. Encompasses the sections on physical abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse, and psychological abuse.
[10] “What Is Domestic Violence.” Women’s & Children’s Crisis Shelter, 11 May 2018, wccshope.org/ get-educated/what-is-domestic-violence/. Encompasses the sections on physical abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse, and psychological abuse.
[11] What Is Child Abuse and Neglect? Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms. (n.d.). Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/whatiscan.pdf.
[12] “Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect.” (n.d.). Retrieved March 1, 2018, from https://www.childwel- fare.gov/pubPDFs/define.pdf.

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