Was I Sexually Abused? | StrongerThan.org

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Was I Sexually Abused?

Due to the complex nature of sexual abuse, it may take a long time before some survivors discover or learn that they were abused. If you are wondering whether a sexual encounter or behavior was sexual abuse, read on to learn more.

September 29, 2023
HomeSexual Abuse BlogWas I Sexually Abused?

Trauma like sexual abuse has the potential to expose children and adults to a lifetime of unwanted emotional, physical, and psychological pain and suffering. Over half of women and almost one in three men have experienced sexual violence during their lifetimes.

The grip sexual abuse has on its victims is strong — people may experience symptoms at different times in their lives. The mind works in powerful ways as it can disguise and delay harmful memories until negative thoughts or experiences resurface years later or health issues resulting from the abuse come to light.

Due to the nature of the sexual abuse, it can take a long time before some survivors discover or learn that they were sexually abused. If you or your loved one was sexually abused, remember that it is possible for you to take your power back.

At StrongerThan.org, our team offers financial, legal, and health resources for survivors so they may move forward with their lives. Our goal is to offer survivors valuable information about the signs, symptoms, and options after sexual abuse so they may never feel like they have to go through the aftermath of abuse alone.

What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse refers to any non-consensual action or attempted action that pressures another person to engage in sexual activities. It can impact people of any gender and any age. Legally, any sexual act with a minor is considered statutory rape as children are not legally recognized as having the ability to provide informed consent to engage in a sexual activity.

Unfortunately, sexual predators are everywhere and can be doctors, teachers, employers, religious leaders like priests or nuns, camp counselors, or even coaches. Sexual violence also disproportionately affects some groups, such as women, and racial and ethnic minorities. According to the CDC, the lifetime cost of rape is $ 122,461 per survivor, making it highly burdensome for the victim of the crime.

Types of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can be physical or non-physical, but it is always inappropriate, non-consensual, and/or unwanted contact. Types of sexual abuse include:

  • Kissing, touching, fondling, tickling, brushing up against, or caressing
  • Communicating verbal or written sexualized content, such as jokes, and explicit text messages or emails
  • Performing sexual acts while non-consenting individuals are present
  • Exposing a child to sexual activity or content
  • Uninvited exposure to pornography or graphic imagery
  • Sexual cyber-harassment
  • Rape or attempted rape (including oral sex), masturbation, or forcing a minor to masturbate
  • Incest rituals or religious-fueled sexual actions
A woman sitting on a bed, with a faraway look on her face

Sexual Abuse: Statistics

While sexual assault and abuse can happen to people of all genders, typically it disproportionately affects women. In addition, too many vulnerable children are exposed to predatory sexual behavior by trusted adults. Sex abuse, especially child sex abuse, can affect a person’s emotional, psychological, and physical well-being, family and intimate relationships, faith, education, as well as career.


At least one in six men are sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetime, whether as young boys or adults.


About one in three women, or 736 million women, are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or non-partner, like a relative, at least once in their lifetime.


One in nine girls and 1 in 20 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault. Eighty-two percent of survivors under 18 are female, and females aged 16-19 years are four times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.

LGBTQIA+ community

LGBTQIA+ people experience sexual violence at similar or higher rates than others. Forty-four percent of lesbians and 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. In comparison, 26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking.

One in two transgender individuals is sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives, with some reports estimating the sexual assault rates to be as high as 66%.

Racial and ethnic minorities

Racial and ethnic minority groups experience a higher rate of sexual violence. It is estimated that more than 2 in 5 non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native and non-Hispanic multiracial women are raped in their lifetime.


Abuse rates among immigrant women are reported to be around 50%, with an estimated 60-80% of women migrants from Central America suffering sexual abuse at the hands of criminal groups, smugglers, and corrupt officials.

Effects of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse often starts as a relationship in which abusers gain access to their victims through deception and enticement. As sexual abuse is predominantly a vicious cycle rather than a one-time event, survivors often face unpredictable and difficult-to-manage symptoms that last long after the abuse has ended. For instance, many adult survivors of child sexual abuse often only come forward years later to report the abuse.

The symptoms of sexual abuse can manifest at different times in a person’s life and lead to conditions such as:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex PTSD
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Flashbacks and sleep disorders
  • Isolation and panic attacks
  • Self-harm or urges to self-harm, and suicidal thoughts or feelings
  • Sexual difficulties and relationship or intimacy issues, and inability to form lasting relationships
  • Parenting difficulties
  • Alcohol and substance abuse, and eating disorders

How Do I Know If I Was Sexually Abused?

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Any sexual activity that does not include mutual agreement is considered sexual abuse. Minor children are legally not allowed to give consent, so any unwanted or attempted sexual contact with a minor is illegal.

Sex abuse may include a series of acts over time and can consist of physical or non-physical touch. For instance, a sexually abusive relationship might start with an abuser using sexually explicit text messages or imagery to groom a child before escalating things further.

Sexual abusers are often manipulative and use different strategies to lure survivors. Sexual coercion might include an abuser making repeated attempts to “ask” for sex or sexual acts, guilt-tripping to make a survivor feel bad about not engaging in sex, pressuring them by bringing out a false sense of obligation, expressing excessive amounts of love, or using threats and force to coerce a person.

Everyone has the right to decide their sexual boundaries. People who exercise different methods to cross such boundaries by pushing, probing, and asking others to participate in or perform sexual acts they are not comfortable with may be committing sexual abuse.

I Think I Was Sexually Abused, But I Can’t Remember. What Do I Do?

Sexual trauma has a direct impact on the brain; because of this, many adult and child sex abuse survivors often repress memories of the abuse. This is an unintentional way of suppressing negative memories to avoid dealing with pain. Child sex abuse survivors might even feel like the memories are a blur or the abuse happened to someone else. Sometimes, adult survivors of child sex abuse suffer from PTSD or complex PTSD later in life as a consequence of the memory loss from the trauma.

Since sexual abuse can impair a survivor’s memories, you may want to review the following potential symptoms of sex abuse:

  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Deep feelings of guilt or shame, and low self-esteem
  • Substance abuse and eating disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Unexplained medical symptoms
  • Problems walking or sitting
  • Trust and interpersonal relationship issues
  • Emotional outbursts or feeling easily triggered
  • Intrusive thoughts, disrupted sleep, and nightmares
  • Visual flashbacks
  • Experience of manic or bipolar states, and emotional volatility

Is it Sexual Abuse If I Initially Said Yes and Then Withdrew Consent?

In a sexual encounter, verbal or non-verbal consent is freely given. Enthusiastic consent means looking for the presence of a “yes” rather than the absence of a “no.” When granted, it is an earnest agreement to participate in a sexual activity using verbal or nonverbal cues and positive body language like smiling, maintaining eye contact, and nodding.

At any point, a person has the right to withdraw consent and clarify they are no longer interested in engaging in the sexual activity. Once someone says no, the other people engaged in the act must stop immediately, and not attempt to coerce or encourage continuation either through words or actions.

Is Sexual Abuse ‘Real’ If There Is No Physical Contact?

A person does not need to be inappropriately touched or be in the same space as another person for sexual abuse to occur. Non-contact sexual abuse is also a real form of exploitation, as are other forms like:

Verbal: Verbal sexual abuse includes explicit conversations or written words that express, evoke, or imply sexual content. It is prevalent in social settings, like at work. Sexual jokes, unwanted romantic gestures or advances, name-calling, graphic descriptions, or stalking through phone calls or texts are examples of sexual abuse.

Covert: Covert sexual abuse happens without the survivor’s knowledge. An abuser might photograph or record another person without the other person’s knowledge or consent.

Visual: Abusers may expose survivors to unwanted and sexually charged or explicit imagery as a form of gratification. Other examples of visual sexual abuse include performing non-consensual sex acts, “sexting,” and flashing another person.

Physical: Physical abuse usually includes unwanted touching, fondling, physical restraint, kissing, tickling, oral sex, licking, and other similar advances.

Ritualistic: Sexual abuse blended with some form of “spirituality” and rituals is considered ritualistic sexual abuse. Sometimes, predators like priests or clergy members justify their actions as religious or part of worship, such as incest rituals, genital mutilation, forced participation in sexual orgy, or chants and incantations during sexual abuse.

Can I Claim Sexual Abuse If I Have Consented Before?

Consent is required every time two people have sexual contact. A lack of negative response or reaction, lack of resistance or protest, or silence is not considered agreement. Additionally, past consent for sexual activity does not imply ongoing future consent.

Is it Sexual Abuse if I Froze and Didn’t Fight Back?

There is no cookie-cutter response to sexual abuse. A person in a sexual situation who feels threatened or senses danger can react in different ways. While one individual might freeze in place and go numb, another person could kick, hit, scream, or flee to safety. Sometimes, survivors appease their abuser and submit to their advances to avoid harsher treatment. Inaction or non-voluntary responses are not always a choice as they are the body’s natural response to a crisis; however, these do not take the place of consent.

A school child walking alone in a dark alley

What If They Convinced Me This Is What I Wanted?

Some abusers use coercion or sexual peer pressure to get what they want. Manipulation can confuse survivors as it might feel like a game or playful teasing, but it still is sexual engagement without consent.

Abusers might use repeated attempts and keep the pressure on after a survivor rejects their advances or withdraws their consent. Some abusers may make an unexpected move and take off a survivor’s clothing or touch them without giving them a chance to say yes or no. Ignoring another person’s sexual boundaries with guilt-tripping, tricks, shame, love bombing, punishments, or drug or alcohol misuse are all examples of coercive sexual tactics.

Since sexual abuse is often about power play, control, and psychological manipulation, an abuser may also gaslight the abused person to make them believe they were interested in the sexual act. Many pedophiles also manipulate child sex abuse survivors into thinking that no one will believe them if they come forward with the abuse.

I Am A Minor and Had Non-Consensual Sex With Another Minor at School. Is It Sexual Abuse?

In the United States, the legal age of consent varies between 16 to 18 years. Depending on the state, minors below the age of consent are considered too immature to make informed decisions about sex, as it can lead to unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as other emotional and physical conditions. If a minor engages in non-consensual sex with another minor, they are likely to be responsible for sexual abuse. However, depending on the age gap between the minors, the punishment for engaging in such acts may vary.

What if I Was Possibly Sexually Abused A Long Time Ago?

According to memory and trauma experts, children understand and respond to trauma like sexual abuse differently than adults. Experts believe children can suffer from repressed memories, or may dissociate or experience memory loss that may resurface at a later time.

If you feel that you were possibly abused a long time ago but cannot accurately recall the details, you may want to consult a licensed sexual abuse therapist who may be able to help you process your emotions and suggest appropriate treatment options.

If you discover that you were sexually abused, you may have the option to pursue a civil sexual abuse lawsuit to hold your abusers accountable. Typically, sex abuse survivors may file a lawsuit even if the sexual abuse happened a long time ago. Under lookback windows adopted by many states, such lawsuits are exempted from strictly following a state’s statute of limitations for filing a sex abuse lawsuit. A sexual abuse lawyer should be able to guide you further on whether you qualify to file a sex abuse lawsuit in your state.

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I Understand I Was Sexually Abused: What Should I Do Now?

If you have been sexually abused and are in immediate danger, call 911.

Here are some of the steps you may consider after you have been sexually abused:

  • Go to a safe place: Many sexual abuse encounters happen in the survivor or abuser’s home, or an organization such as a school, hospital, religious institution, or place of employment. You should consider removing yourself from danger and staying with a friend, relative, or a trustworthy person.
  • Seek immediate medical attention from a nearby hospital or clinic: Act quickly and visit a local clinic for a check-up. You can request a rape kit, as the results will be valuable later should you pursue legal action in the future.
  • Speak to a trusted family member, friend, or healthcare professional: Confide in a relative, friend, or medical professional about the sexual abuse, so they can offer emotional support and advice, or in the case of a healthcare professional, advise you on how to protect your emotional and physical health.
  • Consider talking to a mental health expert: Support after a traumatic experience like sexual abuse can be essential for a survivor. A therapist can offer multiple tools to help cope with the aftermath of the abuse.
  • File a report at a local police station: A police report at your local police station can be useful for holding your abuser accountable for the crime.
  • Contact a sex abuse attorney who practices in your state: A sexual abuse attorney can help you understand whether you have a legal case against your abuser and a third party that enabled the crime or neglected to help. The legal network of StrongerThan.org led by lawyers Ryan Cavanaugh and Dean Venizelos has resources to help survivors who have undergone sexual abuse.
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You Are Not Alone: Let the StrongerThan.org Team Help You Today

At StrongerThan.org, we understand that sexual abuse survivors may never move on from the abuse, but they can move forward with the help of a strong network of support, guidance, and resources. Our legal resources are meant to equip survivors with the knowledge and options to decide how they want to come forward with the abuse.

Our team of skilled and experienced sexual abuse attorneys is available to help sexual abuse survivors file a civil sexual abuse lawsuit so they may receive the financial compensation they need to access medical and mental health resources. If you or your loved one was sexually abused, contact StrongerThan.org today to learn more about your options.

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A nationwide support resource for victims of sexual abuse