What Is Sexual Abuse?

Q. What is Sexual Abuse?

A. Sexual abuse is any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise, directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.

Sexual abuse is any type of sexual activity that you do not agree to, it can be physical, verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention, such as:  inappropriate touching, vaginal, anal, or oral penetration or with an object.


If you feel you have been forced, pressurised or tricked into taking part in any kind of sexual activity with another person, then it is likely you could have experienced sexual abuse.


Q. Who is a typical sexual abuse victim?

A. Anyone can be a victim of sexual abuse; regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, culture, social background or lifestyle. There is no ‘’typical victim’, many people think it will never happen to them or that they would not let it happen.


Those who experience sexual abuse do not bring the abuse upon themselves. Rape and sexual assault is about power, it is not about fulling sexual needs or desires. Sexual abuse takes place when a person (or group of people) feels entitled to have power and control over another and chooses to elicit sexual abuse to enforce that control.


Q. Is it true that disclosures of sexual abuse are often a lie because they regret the sex or as an act of revenge?

A. No this is a myth and not true.  Research shows that sexual abuse is no more falsely reported than any other crimes. In reality, victims of sexual abuse, especially children and men, will often hide the fact they have experienced sexual abuse because of self-blame, guilt, shame or fear.


If a person discloses that they have experienced sexual abuse, please do not question them or judge them, rather be open-minded, stay present with them and offer your full support. Avoid interrogating them and allow them to decide the details that they are comfortable sharing with you. If the person disclosing feels they require further support or you are unsure on how to support them, then please do not hesitate to contact us on 0808 800 0028.


Q. When it happened I just froze, why did I not fight back?

A. What happened is not your fault. People often assume ‘if it happened to me I would fight back’. No one really knows how he or she will react. The fight-flight-freeze response is your body’s natural reaction to danger; our nervous system reacts according to the situation. Survival responses are normal, they are automatic, instinctive and we have little control over them at the time of threat.

sexual abuse signs

It is not uncommon for survivors of sexual assault to have no physical injuries or signs of their assault. Being unable to fight someone off does not mean you agreed or make you in any way complicit with what happened. Some survivors are able to fight, others try to run and others freeze. These are all natural reactions when you are in situations out of your control. At UAVA, we have specialist services, focusing on taking steps towards from abuse, so please contact our helpline on 0808 8000 0028.

Q. I do not know how to cope with what happened. What can I do?

A. The very fact that you are reading this indicates that you are taking positive steps to find ways of coping. There is no right or wrong way of coping with sexual abuse, how people cope in the long-term varies. People often expect that after a rape or sexual assault they will be ‘hysterical’ but many remain very calm or even numb. It is often a very confusing time, making a person feel vulnerable or even feelings of being dirty and bad. It happened was not your fault.

It is never too early or too late, to get support, many can suffer in silence, feeling that they do not deserve support or others are more in need than they are. Our Counselling services provides a safe space that helps you get a clearer understanding of yourself, your experiences and your situation. So please take the next step and contact us, we are here to listen and to help, you are not alone.


Q. I keep having nightmares and remembering what happened, sometimes it is as if it is happening again and again. Am I going mad?

A. No you are not going mad. It is not nice but this is a natural reaction to having survived a trauma such as sexual abuse. When people survive such an ordeal of event or events, it is natural for the brain to replay what happened. These are called ‘flashbacks’, they are memories in your mind, nightmares in your dreams and sensations in your body.


The way you experience these will be individual to you and what has happened. They do not mean that you are going mad, but are a way of your mind trying to make sense of what has happened. It is very distressing to relive it in this way but your mind is trying to find ways of moving on and they can be part of the healing process.


Q. I am worried I might be pregnant or have a sexual transmitted disease (STI’s), what can I do?

A. Depending upon when you think you may have become pregnant there are different options. It is your decision and no one has the right to tell you what you should do. It is about what is right for you. Emergency contraception can be taken within 3-5 days, dependant on the contraception used the sooner they are taken the more effective they will be. If you are pregnant and do not wish to continue with the pregnancy or you would like to continue with the pregnancy, then we strongly advise that you discuss this with your GP, local sexual health clinic or pharmacists.


If you are concerned you may be have a STI’s, the best times to get tested is approximately 2 weeks after the incident, as this is when most infections can be detected. You do not need to tell them what happened unless you wish to; services are free and confidential. Sexual Health Clinics are a specialist service, please contact the Leicester Sexual Health Clinic 0300 124 0102.


Q. Should I report it to the police?

A. We have a dedicated ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advisors) service who are independent from the police and other statutory services. The role of an ISVA is to offer practical and emotional support to anyone who has experienced sexual abuse, including grooming, FGM and exploitation (CSE). Whether this happened recently or in the past.

You do not have to report to the police to get support from an ISVA. They can help you to understand how the criminal justice process works, such as what will happen if you report to the police, what will happen if you report anonymously or the importance and process of forensic DNA retrieval. So please do not hesitate to contact us on 0808 802 0028, we work with you not against you, whatever choice you make, we will support in that decision, as you have to do what is right for you.


Alternatively if you feel you need immediate support contact the SARC (Sexual Abuse Referral Centre) which has a 24hr voicemail service– 0116 273 3330. Juniper Lodge is our local SARC, they provide free and discreet services and you can discuss your options with a trained advisor. If there are forensic opportunities, they can carry out a forensic medical and store the samples taken without involving the police, to give you some time and space to make a decision. These samples are currently stored for 2 years before destruction.

Q. I am currently involved in prositiuation – is there help for me out there?

A. Yes of course there is help, we recognise that those involved in prostitution are often at high risk of sexual violence and you are entitled to exactly the same support as anyone else.

Related: What is Domestic Abuse

The New Futures Project is a specialist charity providing practical, emotional and therapeutic support to adults and young people at risk of, involved in or affected by sexual exploitation or abuse. If you are involved in sex work or someone affected by sexual exploitation / abuse who needs support please contact them on 0116 2510803 or 07714 324 199 for confidential support and guidance.