What is Sexual Abuse? - PAAR
1-866-363-7273 1-866-end-rape 24 hour confidential helpline
kids in group looking at adult

What is Sexual Abuse?

What is Sexual Abuse?

Rape is a crime of humiliation and control, not sex.

Like all types of sexual violence, rape violates a person’s trust and feeling of safety.

Sexual violence is NEVER the victim’s fault, no matter when, where or how it happened, what they were wearing, or how much they were drinking. The only person to blame is the rapist. While only rapists can prevent rape, you can learn more about Creating Safety here.

What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse is a violation of trust and power that can affect girls and boys of all ages. Abuse can be in many forms, including sexual acts such as rape and other types of penetration, inappropriate touching, voyeurism, exhibitionism, pornography, child sexual exploitation, and internet-based child sexual abuse.

1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18.

Many children who are victimized don’t talk about the abuse. They feel confused when a person they know and trust violates them. Also, many men or women who sexually abuse children will manipulate or threaten the child in an attempt to keep their victim silent. Children want the abuse to stop, but fear what might happen if they tell.

Warning signs of abuse

Sometimes the signs of abuse are obvious, but most often they are not. Symptoms of child sexual abuse can include physical injuries, bedwetting, headaches, mood and emotional changes, inappropriate sexual behavior, or increased talk about sexuality in a way that is inappropriate for their age.

Potential health effects

The effects of child sexual abuse can affect the victim for many years even into adulthood. Several multi-decade studies have documented that people with childhood sexual abuse histories experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, suicidal tendencies and chronic illness such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Victims also have problems with trust, self-esteem and emotional regulation, which can cause problems in interpersonal relationships. The effects of abuse also impact academic success, job retention, and earnings.

Ways you can help

Through education, identify offender behaviors and be confident enough to report suspicions to authorities.

Also, talk about it. Parents, guardians, and caregivers can foster open communication with children, establish personal boundaries, help children identify adults they can trust, monitor children’s online usage, and be role models by promoting healthy relationships.

The Child & Family Counseling Center at PAAR is available to provide help to survivors. Call 1-866-END-RAPE (1-866-363-7273).

Effects of Sexual Abuse

Problems managing feelings
  • Feeling nothing
  • Feeling overwhelmed or out-of-control
  • Depression
  • Exploding with anger suddenly
  • Feeling anxious or restless
  • Having panic attacks
  • Having fears and phobias
  • Acting compulsively to deal with feelings
Problems in relationships with other people
  • Difficulties with trust
  • Difficulties with intimacy
  • Confusing affection, love, sex
Problems with how you see yourself
  • Confusion about personal wants, needs, feelings
  • Difficulty trusting one’s self
  • Low self-esteem
Physical reactions
  • “Body memories”—feelings in your body like you did during the abuse
  • Drug and alcohol abuse, addiction
  • Self-destructive behavior and self-injury
  • Suicidal thoughts, feelings, actions
  • Problems with food or eating, such as undereating or overeating
  • Physical intimacy issues
  • Ignoring health concerns
Dissociative Reactions (Disconnection)
  • Spacing out / zoning out
  • Losing time
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling of disconnection from your body or parts of your body

What is Elder Sexual Abuse?

Elder sexual abuse occurs when a person over 60 is forced, tricked, coerced, or manipulated into any unwanted sexual contact. It also includes sexual contact with anyone who is unable to give her/his informed consent. Unfortunately, some older persons make the perfect target due to their decreased functioning and/or reliance on caretakers, which makes them less likely to report, fight back or be believed.

“Why are elder victims unwilling to talk about abuse?”

As victims, the elderly often suffer in silence with overwhelming feelings of shame and embarrassment. They don’t want to believe what is happening to them and are afraid that it will worsen if they do come forward.

Elderly victims can have memory lapses or have difficulty expressing their abuse. All of which makes it difficult for the elderly to talk about what is occurring.

“What are the signs of abuse?”
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area
  • STD’s/Genital infections
  • Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding
  • Sudden changes in behavior

Keep in mind that sexual abuse may be one element of the abuse. If you see any of these signs, or suspect abuse, seek medical attention and report abuse.

“Where can I go for help?”

Contact PAAR at 1-866-END-RAPE. Counseling services and in person support at the hospital and court are available to all victims of sexual violence. All services are free.You can also call the Department of Human Services Senior Line at 412-350-6905 or 1-800-344-4319 to report abuse or neglect. Reporting can be anonymous.