Definition and Overview

The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as any unwanted sexual activity that is obtained through coercion, force, or threat. Experts believe that it has less something to do with sex and more with the perpetrator imposing power and authority to the victim.

There are many types of sexual abuse. These include rape, molestation, and sexual assault. Rape is non-consensual sex. Its either the person doesn’t want it or he or she is not in the proper mental faculty to decide or grant consent (such as a person raped while intoxicated or drugged). Rape can involve not just single men and women but also married people; marital rape happens when sex has become forcible.

Molestation, on the other hand, usually occurs in children. Based on the data of Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, about 44% of sexual abuse is inflicted on those who are below 18 years old. Incest is a kind of child molestation and is perpetrated by immediate family members on the child.

Sexual assault, on the other hand, is defined as having or attempting to have sexual contact with another person without his or her consent. Touching and groping fall under this category.

Not all types of sexual abuse result in sexual contact. Voyeurism and exposure to pornography are already forms of sexual abuse. So is revenge pornography or forcing someone to participate in pornography.

Sexual abuse can have a long-term impact on the survivor’s mental and physical well-being. It is therefore important that they can get the right support such as counselling.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

People who believe they have experienced sexual abuse should consider getting help like counselling. The traumatic experience may lead to depression, anxiety, and uncontrolled anger. They may also show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, especially if they are presented with triggers, which may be a place where the abuse took place or even a person who resembles their perpetrator. Others also resort to self-harm or develop nightmares. Some become perpetrators themselves.

Victims often have distorted views of sex. They may either be sexually overactive or suffer from building intimacy or relationships. They may be infertile or have problems ejaculating or having sexual intercourse. They may try to cope with the trauma of abuse by engaging in addiction, which could be alcohol and drugs.

The abuse may also affect them physically. It may lead to fractures or sprains as well as bruises and injuries that can leave physical scars. They may also contract sexually transmitted diseases or infection in their reproductive organs.

At least 65% of sexual abuse cases are left unreported to the police, which make it more difficult for victims to receive the necessary help. Hence, there should be a strong awareness campaign defining sexual abuse.

Counselling is a customized plan as no person shares the same experience. It is based on many factors including the level of expertise of the practitioner, the receptiveness of the survivor, or the severity of the abuse and the subsequent trauma. It may therefore take few sessions to appointments lasting many years.

How Does the Procedure Work?

For sexual abuse counselling, survivors can approach any of the established non-profit organizations or agencies that offer such service. These places have licensed, well-trained, certified counsellors usually with expertise in sexual abuse. Some of them specialize according to the type of abuse or the age of the victim. After all, the mindset of a teen is different to that of an adult.

Sessions normally last for a few minutes to an hour. Some of the most popular techniques include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and arts therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the principle that the person’s perception of events has more weight than the event itself. For example, a wife who has experienced marital rape may begin to think she’s not worthy of love. She may then start to reject any form of care from other people.

CBT has been proven to be effective in dealing with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is characterized by journaling, challenging the survivor’s mindset, and teaching skills to help her cope with negative thoughts about herself and events in her life.

Arts therapy, on the other hand, is recommended for people who are having a hard time expressing themselves in words. They can use arts to narrate their story and eventually learn to make peace with what happened and cope with the trauma. This is an effective strategy for children affected by sexual abuse.

The stigma brought about by sexual abuse is forcing many survivors to deal with it on their own. Fortunately, many agencies have already established hotlines where they can receive counselling on the phone or via online.

Possible Risks and Complications

Sharing a sexual abuse story can be distressing, uncomfortable, and painful, as it will bring back bad memories. Some may experience their mental and physical health deteriorates, but as the survivor receives the much-needed help, this problem should gradually improve.


  • Dubowitz H, Lane WG. Abused and Neglected Children. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, Behrman RE, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 37.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.Child Welfare Information Gateway.Identification of Sexual Abuse. Accessed November 21, 2014.
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