Home > About Sexual Assault > Definitions > What is Sexual Abuse?

What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual Abuse Definition.  Sexual abuse is any sort of non-consensual sexual contact. Sexual abuse can happen to men or women of any age.  Sexual abuse by a partner/intimate can include derogatory name calling, refusal to use contraception, deliberately causing unwanted physical pain during sex, deliberately passing on sexual diseases or infections and using objects, toys, or other items (e.g. baby oil or lubricants) without consent and to cause pain or humiliation.

Child Sexual AbuseMedem defines child sexual abuse as "any sexual act with a child performed by an adult or an older child."  Child sexual abuse could include a number of acts, including but not limited to: 


  • Sexual touching of any part of the body, clothed or unclothed;
  • Penetrative sex, including penetration of the mouth;
  • Encouraging a child to engage in sexual activity, including masturbation;
  • Intentionally engaging in sexual activity in front of a child;
  • Showing children pornography, or using children to create pornography;
  • Encouraging a child to engage in prostitution.

For more information on identifying and preventing child sexual abuse, please see this PDF Guide from NSPCC.

Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse. Medem suggests that parents and adults can watch for behavior changes in children that may indicate sexual abuse, such as: 

  • A noticeable fear of a person or certain places;
  • Unusual response from the child when asked if he or she was touched;
  • Unreasonable fear of a physical exam;
  • Drawings that show sexual acts;
  • Abrupt changes in behavior, such as bed-wetting or losing control of his or her bowels;
  • Sudden awareness of genitals and sexual acts and words;
  • Attempting to get other children to perform sexual acts.

If your child discloses sexual abuse to you, please believe him or her and seek medical and psychological assistance for both the child and yourself.

How to Get Help. If you are a sexual abuse survivor, or you think you may have been a victim of sexual abuse, peer support can be very helpful. Remember that it was not your fault.  Consider joining Pandora's Aquarium, a sexual abuse online support group, message board, and chat room.

If you are the parent of a rape or sexual abuse survivor, you are also welcome to join the Pandora's Aquarium community as a secondary survivor. We have additional information for parents and friends located here.