In July, we focused on ABUSE. Today, I will shed some light on sexual abuse (sometimes referred to as sexual assault). I will share an experience with you, and I believe it will help you understand what sexual abuse is, types of sexual abuse and its effects and for survivors how it could affect big decisions in your life if you don’t deal with it. Finally, how to come out of this situation if you ever find yourself in one or know a friend in one. 

There are distinct forms of abuse which can occur as a one-off incident or over a period.  A held definition of abuse is “a pattern of behaviour used by one person to gain and maintain power and control over another.” This will be a pattern of behaviour and not just one incident. 

As a young female child, I went through various patterns of abuse growing up and it shaped my reasoning and clouded my judgement. I had lost my confidence and had not an iota of self-esteem. Though intelligent but not able to develop the required people skills to progress in relationship with friends and the opposite sex. 

Sexual abuse can have both short- and long-term effects. The impact of sexual abuse can last a lifetime. I have experienced and still experiencing some of these effects and others who have experienced sexual abuse experience some or all these effects too. These are anxiety and depression; eating disorders; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); difficulty coping with stress; self-harm; suicidal thoughts and suicide; sexually transmitted infections; pregnancy; feelings of shame and guilt; drug and alcohol problems; relationship problems with family, friends and partners.

“It is never a child’s fault they were sexually abused”.

According to NSPCC (National Society to prevent Cruelty to Children), when a child or junior person is sexually abused, they are forced or tricked into sexual activities. They might not understand that what is happening is abuse or that it is wrong, and they might be afraid to tell someone. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere, and it can happen in person or online.

There are two types of sexual abuse:

Contact (in person): Contact abuse is where an abuser makes physical contact with a child. This includes: sexual touching of any part of a child’s body; whether or not they are clothed; using a body part or object to rape or penetrate a child; forcing a child to take part in sexual activities; making a child undress or touch someone else.

Non-contact abuse (online): Non-contact abuse is where a child is abused without being touched by the abuser. This can be in person or online and includes: exposing or flashing private body parts; showing pornography; exposing a child to sexual acts; making them masturbate; forcing a child to make; view or share child abuse images or videos; making, viewing or distributing child abuse images or videos; forcing a child to take part in sexual activities or conversations online or through a smartphone.

“There was so much fear instilled in me that kept me quiet for good”

After being molested over a period by my private tutor as a pre-teen child (just before puberty started), I felt very unworthy and afraid, but I did not understand why. I felt they hated me and that was why that happened to me. I remember I used to tell my parents everyone hated me, but no one bothered to understand what was going on with me.

To be honest, I did not understand what had happened but knew not to mention it to anyone, even my parents as I was coerced not to ever mention it to anyone, it was a secret.  I was terrified and ashamed. I did not have a close enough relationship with my parents or any adult at that young age to allow me the opportunity to communicate what had happened. I was alone in my head and this affected my daily performance. I was not your normal child. I exhibited a lot of suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression. Though I did not understand then why I was always thinking of hurting myself or running away or just dying. I hated myself. 

Abusers are often familiar faces, this could be a family member, a friend or someone in authority, like a teacher or sports coach.  They are people who have direct access to you and can control a situation. For example, every time I tried to report my private tutor, it was perceived as though I did not want to attend the lessons and sometimes I got smacked for it and so I learned to shut my mouth up since every attempt would get me in more trouble. This affected my education and concentration in many ways my parents could not comprehend. 

Some children are more at risk of sexual abuse. Children with disabilities are more likely to be sexually abused; especially, those who cannot speak out or do not understand that they are being abused. Some abusers target children who are isolated or being neglected by their parents or carers. If a family is going through a tough time, they might not give their child enough attention or supervision, putting them in unsafe situations. If you have parents that are always away working and leaving you in the hands of carers like my case. It is almost inevitable in the African environment I grew up that abuse will take place. 

Abusers are good at manipulating their victims. They are skilled at keeping you quiet. An abuser will tell you not to tell and give you loads of reasons not to tell.  These reasons will seem reasonable at the time and scare you as a child. It is important as teens to have a responsible adult we can trust and open up to. This should preferably be our parents but not always the case such as in a situation where you are far from your parents, then you need to reach out to a trusted adult, or contact us at Blossom, contact the NSPCC.  As I grew older, I began to shed off some fears I had developed as a child. I was about 8 years old; I think when I was first abused and can now talk about it. Growing up, my mum never took my words seriously, and now I understand that this behaviour was the effects of how she was raised and our cultural background; however, there were so many occasions where I was innocent but an uncle or aunt would say otherwise about me and mum will take their words over mine at face value. My pre-teen phase was tough as I had little understanding of the many traumatic experiences and had to learn to cope in my mind. I had an inner world inside of me, only known to me and I would withdraw into from time to time. 

“Sexual abuse does not happen because of what you are wearing”.

Remember, sexual abuse is sexual behaviour, or a sexual act forced upon a woman, man, or child without their consent. Sexual abuse is an act of violence or manipulation which the abuser uses against someone they perceive as weaker than them. It does not come from an uncontrollable sex drive but is a crime committed deliberately with the goal of controlling and humiliating the victim.

According to NPSCC, the list below are the types of sexual assault (or sexual abuse). 

  • Sexual assault: a term including all sexual offences. Any action or statement with sexual nature and done without consent from both sides.
  • Rape: insertion of a bodily organ or an object into the sex organ of a woman without her consent.
  • Sodomy: insertion of a bodily organ or an object into a person’s anus or mouth without their consent.
  • Attempted rape: attempted insertion of a bodily organ or an object into the sex organ of a woman without her consent.
  • Gang rape: rape carried out by over one attacker.
  • Serial rape: repeated incidents of rape carried out by the same attacker over an extended period.
  • Incest: Sexual abuse or assault at the hands of a family member.

My childhood was stolen away from me. I did not think anyone would understand and only got to understand as I got older that I was raped as a child. For a long time, I felt numb inside but with the right kind of support from those who cared about me, I have been able to pick up the pieces of my life and recreate something beautiful. Now when I look in the mirror I see someone worth fighting for, you are worth fighting for, to parents, our children are worth fighting for.

If this has affected you in any way, take that bold step to speak out; you’re not alone. And we are here for you.