Sexual abuse

Specialty of Psychiatry

What is sexual abuse?

Any sexual activity without consent is considered sexual abuse. It can be between adults, by an adult to a minor (child sexual abuse) or even between minors.

Sexual activity includes any type of penetration of genital organs, as well as the obligation on the part of the abuser to touch the genital organs. Sexual activity also includes any action that incites the minor to listen to or face inappropriate sexual content.

What are the signs of possible sexual abuse?

The main signs by which you can suspect that someone has suffered sexual abuse are:

  • unexplained wounds
  • sudden change in behaviour
  • torn or stained clothing
  • self-harm
  • depression
  • sudden loss of interest in sexual intercourse
  • alcohol or drug abuse
  • sexually transmitted infections
  • pregnancy

Treatment and care for someone who has been sexually abused

In the UK there are a range of services available if you have suffered sexual abuse.

This page has a list of helplines to call, with some helplines offering specific support for women or for men. Around the UK there is a network of Crisis Centres you can enter if you are a women who needs support urgently.

There are also numerous support groups where you can talk with other victims of sexual abuse, support one another, and share strategies for moving forward.

In many cases you may be left with difficulties that can only be resolved with the help of more formal treatment such as psychotherapy. A psychotherapist specialising in sexual abuse can talk with you about the thoughts that continue to affect you and challenge unhelpful thought patterns, such as feelings of guilt and self-blame.

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