Sexual Abuse Takes Many Forms
Sexual abuse is a very serious crime and occurs in many ways. It can also take the form of sexual molestation or harassment. Sexual abuse may occur when the abuser advances unwanted sexual acts toward another. Often the abuser is in a position of trust or authority over the abused.
Sexual Predators Are Found in All Aspects of Life
- Medical professionals: Physicians, nurses, psychiatrists, dentists, and doctors have been accused of sexual misconduct toward patients.
- Educators: A troubling number of teachers, coaches, counselors, and child-care professionals have been known to molest students under their care.
- Clergy abuse: Even religious organizations are not immune from sexual abuse claims. Recent years have seen thousands of priests and other clergy members who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse and molestation.
- Public safety officials: Police officers, prison guards, and even judges may take advantage of their position of authority to sexually abuse persons in their custody.
- Employers and co-workers: In the work place, office managers, supervisors and superiors are known to sexually harass and even assault victims.
- Family members: Sexual abuse can occur among family members involving siblings, parents, uncles, aunts, and family friends.
All of these individuals are in a trusting relationship and in a position of authority over the abused. Often the perpetrators use their position of power to harass, coerce or intimidate their victims into silence. This type of abuse is emotionally and psychologically harmful because it involves a violation of trust.
Who Are the Victims?
Victims of sexual abuse come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, but typically have one or more traits that make them especially vulnerable. Children are often targets of sexual abuse and may be molested by their teachers, counselors, priests, and family members. People suffering from disability or dementia, as well as elderly people in nursing homes are also highly vulnerable because they may be afraid or unable to communicate what they are experiencing to others.
Perpetrators are often in positions of high authority and may even be considered “pillars of their community” by many. As such, they target their victims because they see them as easy prey. They know that people may not believe the victim if they complain of the abuse. In the case of children, the abusers often groom the child in sexual behavior and teach them to keep it a secret.
Sexual abuse can also happen in the context of dating or romantic relationships. This is commonly referred to as “date rape”. Additionally, reports of student sexual assault on college campuses are shockingly common. Finally, sexual assault can occur by complete strangers as well. When the victim does not know the perpetrator at all, the abuse is referred to as stranger rape.
Legally-Recognized Forms of Sexual Abuse
Sexual Assault: When the sexual acts are accompanied by force, the act is defined as sexual assault. Rape or attempted rape is a form of sexual assault. Rape occurs when the perpetrator, using force, sexually penetrates the victim without his/her consent. Force does not have to be physical; psychological coercion, emotional manipulation or threats and intimidation also qualify as force.
Sexual Harassment: When an individual uses his/her power to make sexual advances it is referred to as sexual harassment. Sexual harassment claims are most common in a workplace setting. Sexual harassment occurs when one asks for sexual favors or makes vulgar or sexual comments in an office or university, thus creating a hostile work environment.
A manager or supervisor is sexually harassing a co-worker or subordinate when he or she makes conditions of employment or offer of employment in return for sexual favors. This is referred to as “quid pro quo” harassment. Unwanted touching, inappropriate sexual comments or jokes, discussion of sexual relationships, positions, sharing explicit photographs, texts or exposing oneself in the workplace can constitute sexual harassment.
Child Sexual Abuse: Child sexual abuse occurs when a child is used by an adult for sexual gratification. Masturbation in front of a child, indecent exposure of one’s genitalia, fondling, sex trafficking, child pornography, showing a minor photographs or videos of sexual nudity, sexual intercourse, or any type of sex with a minor is considered child sexual abuse.
Statutory Rape: Non-forcible sexual intercourse with a minor who is below the age of consent is called statutory rape. In this type of sexual abuse case, there is no force or threat involved, and the minor is usually past the age of puberty. However, the law presumes that since a minor is below the age of consent and therefore incapable of giving consent to the sexual act, the adult did not have consent for sexual intercourse with the minor.
How Sexual Abuse Can Affect Victims
The effects of sexual abuse and molestation can be devastating, and the recovery process is long and arduous. Survivors of sexual abuse suffer from life-long emotional and psychological scars. They may experience feelings of fear, guilt, humiliation, anger and powerlessness. For some victims, the effects are so grave that they lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many abuse survivors experience suicidal thoughts, anxiety, depression and drug addiction. Physically, they may exhibit signs of fatigue, general malaise, eating disorders and lack of sleep.