We have all heard about the topic of sexual abuse, but oftentimes it remains a blurry subject and is often taboo. Sexual abuse does not always include physical touch, which sometimes makes it more difficult to identify. Abusive behavior is any sexual activity that is performed without a person’s consent. These acts are criminal, and the blame is never on the victim. Young people are often victims of abuse committed by someone who has some form of authority over them. Sexual abuse is punishable by law and there exists support and listening organizations. Even when in doubt, any uncomfortable situation should be confided to someone you trust in order to better protect yourself.
What is sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse is when a person or people engage another person in sexual activity without their consent. Situations of abuse do not always involve physical contact. Forcing someone to act against their will and remove their clothing by using authority, for example, is an example of sexual abuse without touching. Sending nude photos without one’s consent is another example.
Abusive behavior is often perpetrated by someone in the victim’s circle. Within the family circle, this person could be a member of the family, a parent, a parent’s spouse, or even siblings. In the external circle, this person can be a friend, a neighbor, a coach, a supervisor in an institution (school, daycare, care services, etc.)
Sexual abuse also occurs on social media platforms, forums, chat rooms, and dating apps. Sexual predator can contact young people and engage in acts of exhibitionism and voyeurism through cameras. They may also try to meet the young person in person later.
What are the forms of sexual abuse?
Forms of sexual abuse include a range of gestures and acts that do not automatically involve touching. They can be classified into 3 categories:
1-Sexual abuse without physical contact: voyeurism, exhibitionism, production of photographs and films of pornographic nature.
2-Sexual abuse with physical contact, but without penetration: kissing, touching the body, touching the genitals, masturbation.
3-Sexual abuse with penetration: penetration of a finger, penis, or object into the mouth, anus, or vagina.
Depending on the actions taken, situations of abuse are defined differently.
Sexual harassment: these are unwanted words, gestures or physical contact. The abuser’s goal is to intimidate the person and this behaviour can lead to more violent acts later.
Sexual touching: these are unwanted physical contact without penetration, like kissing, rubbing, or touching the genitals.
Rape: this is forced penetration of the mouth, anus, or vagina without consent.
Cyber sexual assault: this is a form of sexual violence that takes place online and on telecommunication devices. This includes pornographic texting, sending pornographic pictures, cyber sexual harassment, cyber pornographic revenge, and any other unwanted sexual act.
What are the consequences of sexual abuse during youth?
It is important to remember that sexual abuse of youth is even more damaging than that of adults. The younger a person is, the more likely it is that the consequences will be significant in terms of personal development.
Sexual abuse of young people has consequences in their lives, but also in the lives of people around them. There is no exhaustive list of the negative consequences that can result from sexual abuse. There are many consequences, and these may differ from person to person. They can be lifelong, with negative effects on physical and mental health, social and romantic relationships, education, and work.
Victims of sexual abuse may face psychological effects that are observable. These immediate consequences change the youth’s personality and behaviors:
- State of shock
- Anxiety, nervousness
- Feeling of guilt
- Post-traumatic stress symptoms
- Denial, confusion
If you think you are a victim of sexual abuse or if you have questions about a loved one’s situation, it is important to talk about it. The organization Jeunesse, j’écoute is available 24/7 for support by the telephone or by text.
It is possible to support a person who has been sexually abused. A listening ear can help a young person put into words what they have experienced and to break the silence. If the abuse happened recently, you could start by making sure the youth is safe and assessing if they need medical attention.
It is also important to believe a person when they report sexual abuse. It requires courage to overcome the fear of talking to someone about it. Many victims fear that they will not be taken seriously or believed. That is why it is important to validate the feelings of young people when you want to support them. They can be disoriented or confused, and it is normal to have feelings of sadness, anger, sadness, etc. It is not uncommon for victims of abuse to feel guilt and shame. Do not hesitate to assure the person that they are not to blame for what happened.
Note that it is best to avoid telling the person what to do. Instead, ask them what you can do to help and support them. To maintain their trust, it is important to respect their decisions. However, it may be useful to inform them about the different options available to them.
LOVE supports youth to thrive through programs and healthy relationships that build emotional intelligence and help overcome the challenges they face. Our participants emerge from LOVE’s programs with greater resilience, heightened skills, and the confidence to be inspirational leaders.