What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse refers to any action that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually they don’t want to do. It can also refer to behavior that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs, including oral sex, rape or restricting access to birth control and condoms. Some examples of sexual assault and abuse are:

  • Unwanted kissing or touching.
  • Unwanted rough or violent sexual activity.
  • Rape or attempted rape.
  • Refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control.
  • Keeping someone from protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Sexual contact with someone who is very drunk, drugged, unconscious or otherwise unable to give a clear and informed “yes” or “no.”
  • Threatening someone into unwanted sexual activity.
  • Repeatedly pressuring someone to have sex or perform sexual acts.
  • Repeatedly using sexual insults toward someone.

Keep in Mind

Everyone has the right to decide what they do or don’t want to do sexually. Not all sexual assaults are violent “attacks.”

Most victims of sexual assault know the assailant.

Both men and women can be victims of sexual abuse.

Both men and women can be perpetrators of sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse can occur in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.

Sexual abuse can occur between two people who have been sexual with each other before, including people who are married or dating.

What to Do

If you have been sexually assaulted, first get to a safe place away from the attacker. You may be scared, angry and confused, but remember the abuse was in no way your fault. You have options. You can:

Contact Someone You Trust. Many people feel fear, guilt, anger, shame and/or shock after they have been sexually assaulted. Having someone there to support you as you deal with these emotions can make a big difference. It may be helpful to speak with a counselor, someone at a sexual assault hotline or a support group. Get more tips for building a support system.

Report What Happened to the Police. If you do decide to report what happened, you will have a stronger case if you do not alter or destroy any evidence. This means don’t shower, wash your hair or body, comb your hair or change your clothes, even if that is hard to do. If you are nervous about going to the police station, it may help to bring a friend with you. There may also be sexual assault advocates in your area who can assist you and answer your questions.

Go to an Emergency Room or Health Clinic. It is very important for you to seek health care as soon as you can after being assaulted. You will be treated for any injuries and offered medications to help prevent pregnancy and STIs.

Remember there is always help. For more information go to www.whatisrespect.org

What is Stalking?

You are being stalked when a person repeatedly watches, follows or harasses you, making you feel afraid or unsafe. A stalker can be someone you know, a past boyfriend or girlfriend or a stranger. While the actual legal definition varies from one state to another, here are some examples of what stalkers may do:

Show up at your home or place of work unannounced or uninvited.

Send you unwanted text messages, letters, emails and voicemails.

Leave unwanted items, gifts or flowers.

Constantly call you and hang up.

Use social networking sites and technology to track you.

Spread rumors about you via the internet or word of mouth.

Make unwanted phone calls to you.

Call your employer or professor.

Wait at places you hang out.

Damage your home, car or other property.

What if I’m Being Stalked?

If you’re being stalked, you may be feeling stressed, vulnerable or anxious. You may also have trouble sleeping or concentrating at work or school. Remember, you are not alone. Every year in the United States, 3.4 million people are stalked and youth between the ages of 18-24 experience the highest rates. Most people assume that stalkers are strangers, but actually three in four victims are harassed by someone they know.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911 and report everything that’s happened to the police. Get additional support by obtaining a protection order that makes it illegal for the stalker to come near. Know that the person harassing you may also get arrested and convicted in the criminal justice system.

Remember to save important evidence such as:

Text messages

Voicemails

Videos

Letters, photos and cards

Unwanted items or gifts

Social media friend requests

Emails

You should also write down the times, places and dates all incidents occurred. Include the names and contact information of people who witnessed what happened.

Stalking is traumatic. You may experience nightmares, lose sleep, get depressed or feel like you’re no longer in control of your life. These reactions are normal. It can help to tell your friends and family about the stalking and develop a safety plan. You can also chat with a peer advocate for support.

What is Emotional/Verbal Abuse?

Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring or “checking in,” excessive texting, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.

There are many behaviors that qualify as emotional or verbal abuse:

Calling you names and putting you down.

Yelling and screaming at you.

Intentionally embarrassing you in public.

Preventing you from seeing or talking with friends and family.

Telling you what to do and wear.

Using online communities or cell phones to control, intimidate or humiliate you.

Blaming your actions for their abusive or unhealthy behavior.

Stalking you.

Threatening to commit suicide to keep you from breaking up with them.

Threatening to harm you, your pet or people you care about.

Making you feel guilty or immature when you don’t consent to sexual activity.

Threatening to expose your secrets such as your sexual orientation or immigration status.

Starting rumors about you.

Threatening to have your children taken away.

 

Is Emotional Abuse Really Abuse?

A relationship can be unhealthy or abusive even without physical violence. Verbal abuse may not cause physical damage, but it does cause emotional pain and scarring. It can also lead to physical violence if the relationship continues on the unhealthy path its on.

Sometimes verbal abuse is so bad that you actually start believing what your partner says. You begin to think you’re stupid, ugly or fat. You agree that nobody else would ever want to be in a relationship with you. Constantly being criticized and told you aren’t good enough causes you to lose confidence and lowers your self esteem. As a result, you may start to blame yourself for your partner’s abusive behavior.

Remember — emotional abuse is never your fault. In fact, your partner may just be trying to control or manipulate you into staying in the relationship. Talk to someone you trust, like a parent, friend or teacher, about the situation and make a safety plan. You can also chat with a peer advocate for more help when dealing with verbal abuse.

What is Digital Abuse?

Digital dating abuse is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. Often this behavior is a form of verbal or emotional abuse perpetrated online.In a healthy relationship, all communication is respectful whether in person, online or by phone. It is never ok for someone to do or say anything that makes you feel bad, lowers your self-esteem or manipulates you. You may be experiencing digital abuse if your partner:

Tells you who you can or can’t be friends with on Facebook and other sites.

Sends you negative, insulting or even threatening emails, Facebook messages, tweets, DMs or other messages online.

Uses sites like Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and others to keep constant tabs on you.

Puts you down in their status updates.

Sends you unwanted, explicit pictures and demands you send some in return.

Pressures you to send explicit video.

Steals or insists to be given your passwords.

Constantly texts you and makes you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you will be punished.

Looks through your phone frequently, checks up on your pictures, texts and outgoing calls.

You never deserve to be mistreated, online or off. If you’re experiencing digital dating abuse, we encourage you tochat with a peer advocate.Remember:

Your partner should respect your relationship boundaries.

It is ok to turn off your phone. You have the right to be alone and spend time with friends and family without your partner getting angry.

You do not have to text any pictures or statements that you are uncomfortable sending, especially nude or partially nude photos, known as “sexting.”

You lose control of any electronic message once your partner receives it. They may forward it, so don’t send anything you fear could be seen by others.

You do not have to share your passwords with anyone.

Know your privacy settings. Social networks such as Facebook allow the user to control how their information is shared and who has access to it. These are often customizable and are found in the privacy section of the site. Remember, registering for some applications (apps) require you to change your privacy settings.

Be mindful when using check-ins like Facebook Places and foursquare. Letting an abusive partner know where you are could be dangerous. Also, always ask your friends if it’s ok for you to check them in. You never know if they are trying to keep their location secret.

Texting and Sexting

Next to talking one-on-one, texting is currently one of the most instant forms of communication. While texting might be the perfect platform to say a quick “hi,” there are some things to watch out for in a textual relationship with your partner.

Texting Too Much

If your partner texts too much, it’s not only irritating, but unnecessary. Keeping in touch with your significant other throughout the day can be thoughtful, but constant contact is probably over-doing it. Consider talking to your partner about giving you a little bit of space. Remember, if they’re using texting messaging to monitor everywhere you go, that is a warning sign of abuse.

Sexting

Does your partner ask for inappropriate pictures of you? Or send them to you? Even if you trust that your partner will be the only one to ever see the pictures, you can never guarantee that they won’t end up on someone else’s phone or online. Seriously consider playing it safe and making a policy of not sending and instantly deleting inappropriate photos. The same goes for webcams and instant messaging, too. Remember you never have to do anything you aren’t comfortable with, no matter how much your partner pressures you.

Sexting can also have legal consequences. Any nude photos or video of someone under 18 could be considered child pornography, which is always illegal. Even if whoever sent the image did so willingly, the recipient can still get in a lot of trouble.

Reading Someone Else’s Texts

Does your partner ask to read your texts? Or read them behind your back? Healthy relationships are built on trust, not jealousy. You have the right to privacy and the ability to talk to whomever you like. You may want to explain to your partner that you have nothing to hide, but don’t like them going through your phone or deciding who your friends are. If your partner refuses to change, you could be in an unhealthy relationship. Take our quiz to find out if there are other warning signs in your relationships.

Threats over Text

Threats over text should be taken seriously — try not to write them off as angry venting. Keep track of threatening texts and think about talking to someone you trust about what is happening. Being in a violent relationship is dangerous — don’t going through it alone.

What Can I Do?

Whether you feel like your partner is already using their cell phone in an abusive way or you’re trying to prevent it, here are tips to keep you safe and healthy:

Remember, it’s ok to turn off your phone. Just be sure your parent or guardian knows how to contact you in an emergency.

Don’t answer calls from unknown or blocked numbers. Your abuser can easily call you from another line if they suspect you are avoiding them.

Don’t respond to hostile, harassing, abusive or inappropriate texts or messages. Responding can encourage the person who sent the message and won’t get them to stop. Your messages might also get you in trouble and make it harder to get a restraining order or file a criminal report.

Save or document troublesome texts as you may need them later for evidence in case you file a criminal report or ask for a restraining order.

Many phone companies can block up to ten numbers from texting or calling you. Contact your phone company or check their website to see if you can do this on your phone.

If you are in or coming out of a dangerous relationship, avoid using any form of technology to contact your abuser. It can be dangerous and may be used against you in the future.

It may seem extreme, but if the abuse and harassment don’t stop, changing your phone number may be your best option.

If you are feeling threatened or suffocated by your partner’s constant calls or texts, it may be a sign that you are in an unhealthy and potentially abusive relationship. When your partner says or does things that make you afraid, lowers your self-esteem or manipulates you, it is called verbal or emotional abuse. You have the right to be in a safe andhealthy relationship free from all types of abuse.

What is Physical Abuse?

Physical abuse is any intentional and unwanted contact with you or something close to your body. Sometimes abusive behavior does not cause pain or even leave a bruise, but it’s still unhealthy. Examples of physical abuse are:

Scratching, punching, biting, strangling or kicking.

Throwing something at you such as a phone, book, shoe or plate.

Pulling your hair.

Pushing or pulling you.

Grabbing your clothing.

Using a gun, knife, box cutter, bat, mace or other weapon.

Smacking your bottom.

Forcing you to have sex or perform a sexual act.

Grabbing your face to make you look at them.

Grabbing you to prevent you from leaving or to force you to go somewhere.

Escaping Physical Abuse

Start by learning that you are not alone. More than one in 10 high school students have already experienced some form of physical aggression from a dating partner, and many of these teens did not know what to do when it happened. If you are in a similar situation:

Realize this behavior is wrong.

Talk to an adult, friend or family member that you trust.

Create a safety plan.

Consider getting a restraining order.

Do not accept or make excuses for your partner’s abusive behavior.

Remember that physical abuse is never your fault.

Protecting Yourself from Physical Abuse

Unhealthy or abusive relationships usually get worse. It is important to know the warning signs to prevent more serious harm. If you are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, consider making a safety plan. Chat with a peer advocate for more information.

What is Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse can be very subtle — telling you what you can and cannot buy or requiring you to share control of your bank accounts. At no point does someone you are dating have the right to use money or how you spend it to control you.

Here are some examples of financially abusive behavior:

Giving you an allowance and closely watching what you buy.

Placing your paycheck in their account and denying you access to it.

Keeping you from seeing shared bank accounts or records.

Forbidding you to work or limiting the hours you do.

Preventing you from going to work by taking your car or keys.

Getting you fired by harassing you, your employer or coworkers on the job.

Hiding or stealing your student financial aid check or outside financial support.

Using your social security number to obtain credit without your permission.

Using your child’s social security number to claim an income tax refund without your permission.

Maxing out your credit cards without your permission.

Refusing to give you money, food, rent, medicine or clothing.

Causing visible bruises and scars so that you are too embarrassed to go to work.

Using funds from your children’s tuition or a joint savings account without your knowledge.

Spending money on themselves but not allowing you to do the same.

I’m Experiencing Financial Abuse

If you partner does any of these things, you are probably in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Financial abuse is usually coupled with emotional or physical abuse.

If you are not in control over your finances, or if your partner has removed money from your bank account, it can seem very scary to leave an abusive relationship. There are many organizations who can help you “get back on your feet” and get control over your finances — some even provide short-term loans to cover important expenses as you escape an abusive relationship. Chat with a peer advocate to learn more about local resources.

You may also want to talk to someone you trust, like a friend, family member or legal professional, about getting aprotection order. Whether you decide to leave or stay, consider making a safety plan that includes setting aside funds in a secret location.

Anger/Emotional Abuse