Sexual Abuse

What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual act or activity.   There are many different kinds of abuse including rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, rape within marriage/relationships, “honour” based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), trafficking, sexual exploitation and ritual abuse.

Rape and sexual assault are mostly committed by someone who is known to the victim/survivor - husband, partner, boyfriend, friend, colleague, another family member, ex-partner, it can be someone that the victim knows and trusts.

Sexual abuse is always the responsibility of the perpetrator. There is no excuse for sexual violence and it can never be justified.

If you have been raped or experienced sexual abuse, no matter where you were, what you were doing, what you were wearing, if you were drunk or under the influence of alcohol or drugs; it was not your fault and you did not deserve this.

Rape / sexual assault should be reported to the police.

Consent is everything, you have the right to say no at any point during any sexual activity, even if you initiated it, but do not want it to continue.

Visit the Get Help section of this website for details of local and national services that can support you.

Our Relationships Shouldn't Hurt podcast has the following episodes which you may find useful for support on Sexual Abuse:

Am I Being Sexually Abused?

You are being sexually abused if:

  • You are being touched in a way you do not like
  • You are being forced to have sex
  • You are forced to look at sexual pictures or videos
  • You are made to watch someone do something sexual. This can include someone flashing or exposing themselves to you; this can be via webcam, pictures or in person
  • You are made to do something sexual to someone that feels uncomfortable or wrong; again, this can be online or in the real world

If this is happening to you, you might think that it's your fault. It is not. No-one has the right to sexually abuse you, even your husband, wife, partner, boyfriend or girlfriend. Possibly it is someone else? If you speak out about it, there are people who care - they will listen to you and help you.

It does not matter who the person is that is making you do these things, they are sexually abusing you. It is possible to be sexually abused by someone you know and love. This does not make what they are doing okay.

Some forms of sexual abuse can include:

  • Rape
  • Forcing someone to engage in sexual acts
  • Degrading treatment
  • Sexual name-calling
  • Forcing someone to prostitute themselves
  • Making someone wear clothes that they haven’t chosen
  • Forcing someone to take part in or look at pornographic images
  • Forcing someone to have sexual relationships with other people

Sexual Consent

Regardless of your age or gender, you have the right to say no when it comes to sexual activity.

It is important to remember that whether or not you you are having sex for the first time or if you are with a life partner, if you do not want to have sex you are entitled to say no if you do not want to have sex. Your partner should respect this decision whether it is a new partner or a partner of many years. Using manipulation to get you to consent is abusive.


  • Consent is showing or verbally communicating a clear ‘yes’ to your partner. If you’re not sure if someone is consenting, ask
  • To be able to consent, a person must have both the capacity to say yes and must understand what is happening and what they are agreeing to do
  • The absence of “no” does not mean yes. Someone might have been pressured or frightened into doing something they do not want to – this means they have not consented. If you are not sure if your partner is consenting, ask
  • Everyone has the right to say no to any kind of sexual activity, or to change their mind at any time before or during sex
  • It is important to remember that there are some groups of people who cannot consent under law. If someone is not physically or mentally capable of making a decision to have sex – or they can not understand what they are agreeing to – they cannot give consent. For example, if someone is very drunk or intoxicated when they agree to sex, the law recognises that they do not have the capacity to give ‘true’ consent.
  • The age of consent in the UK is 16

Sex and sexual intimacy is all about consent. Even if you begin sexual activity you can change your mind and say no. If you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs you might not be able to give consent or refuse consent.  If someone does not have mental capacity to make an informed choice they will not be able to give consent or refuse consent. The law in the UK states that to give consent to sex, a person must be over the age of 16. This is so they are able to make an informed decision for themselves.

Always check you have consent:

  • Good communication with your partner will help, this means that they will be able to comfortably tell you if they do not want to have sex
  • Check your partner's body language, are they relaxed? If they seem tense or nervous it may be an indicator that they do not want to have sex
  • It’s really important to remember that somebody does not have to physically say ‘NO’ to you before sex. Some people find this really hard, so look for other signs that they are saying no. They may have stopped kissing you, or asked you to get off them for example. This could be a sign that are not consenting, always check before going further
  • Remember, it’s always okay for somebody to say no and change their minds. Pressuring somebody into sex or sexual activity is always abuse

Are you being pressured into sex?

If you feel you are being forced or pressured into sexual activity then there is no question that it is abuse. Examples of being pressured into sex include:

  • Being made to feel guilty or bad if you say no to sexual activity
  • Being manipulated to have sex, for example being told “if you loved me you would” or “everybody is doing it” “Don’t be frigid”
  • Being encouraged by your partner to take drugs or drink excessive amounts of alcohol that may limit your ability to say no

Myths About Sexual Abuse

There are many myths that exist about rape, sexual abuse and sexual violence. These myths affect how those who experience rape, sexual abuse or sexual violence are treated by other people - including family, friends and organisations.

If a woman wears revealing clothes, she’s asking for it
Women have the right to wear whatever clothes they like. Short skirts, tight outfits and low cut tops do not mean that a women is asking for sex. Clothes are an expression of personality, but do not count as consent.

If the victim gets aroused or has an orgasm, they enjoyed it, so it cannot be an assault
The body responds to sexual assault differently, some people may find that their natural response is to orgasm. This does not mean that the survivors has enjoyed the rape and it can make the whole ordeal both more confusing and traumatic to process.

Rapists are always strangers in the dark
This is one of the more concerning myths around sexual assault and rape as in the UK 90% of all rapes and assaults are actually carried out by abusers known to the victim. This means the most common place for assaults to happen is where the victim may have previously felt safe, such as their home or their workplace.

It’s not rape or assault if they’ve consented to sex with me before
Both people need to consent to sex every time, just because somebody has previously had sex with you it does not mean that this consents all future activity. At any point, anybody has the right to say no.

It’s not rape if the couple are married or in a relationship
Rape within marriage was criminalised in 1991 and regardless of the status of a relationship, if somebody does not want to have sex or engage in sexual activity then it is their right to say no.

Prostitutes cannot be raped
Just like anybody else, somebody who works within the sex industry has the right to say no to sexual activity. They are paid for consensual sex only and are free to chose who they do business with.

Women say that have been raped to get revenge
Reporting a rape and going through a trial are very traumatic, most women would not want to start this process if they had not been raped. However, like any other crimes sometimes false allegations are made. Statistics show us that number of false reports for rape and sexual assault are the same as any other crime, this tells us that other crimes are lied about too. Not just rape.

Once a man is sexually excited, he cannot stop.
When sexually excited, men and women alike may hope that they have sex. However, we all have control over our bodies and men are able to stop themselves regardless of how excited they may feel.

These are only some of the myths that exist, and the above examples do not reflect that men and boys can be the victims of sexual assault or rape.