Can I Be Sexually Abused by My Partner?
Does the fact that you had sex with somebody before mean that you have given permission this time and the next time? Can you be raped by a boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse?
If you have experienced sexual abuse of any kind, please be aware that the information in this article may be triggering. It's good information, but be prepared.
If you would rather watch/listen than read, you can find the video to this article HERE.
More often than not sexual abuse is perpetrated by somebody that the victim knows. Sometimes it's a relative, sometimes it's a friend, sometimes it's a significant other. Yes, that is possible.
It comes by lots of different names. Sometimes people call it marital rape, or spousal rape or intimate partner sexual violence. It can also just be considered domestic violence too. It's a part of domestic violence, which is why it's a part of this series.
What is Sexual Abuse?
Let's go through some definitions:
Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual activity with perpetrators who use force, make threats, or taking advantage of somebody who is not capable of giving consent or who didn't give consent.
Sexual assault is sexual contact or behavior that occurs without your explicit consent.
Rape - The FBI defines rape as penetration, no matter how slight of the vagina or the anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by sex organ of another person without the consent of a victim.
rape is forcing you to do something that you don't want to do. This might mean having sex when you don't want to. It might mean him touching you forcibly or in ways or situations that make you feel uncomfortable. It could mean forcing you to have sex with other people against your will, or to participate in role-play that you don't want to. Maybe you say no, but a lot of times in abusive relationships, you don't really feel like you have the option to say no. If you're afraid to say no, but you would if you felt safe enough to, that still counts. No matter what term you use to define it or what type of relationship you're in, it's never okay to engage in sexual activity without somebody's consent.
What is Consent?
You'll notice that in all three of those definitions that I gave you, consent is necessary. Otherwise, it's sexual abuse. Consent is agreement by both people to engage in a sexual activity. In order for somebody to consent, according to US law, they have to be not under the influence of alcohol, not under the influence of drugs, not a minor and not mentally handicapped. Any of those things in place means that person can't legally give consent, even if they “give consent.”
Consent doesn't have to be verbal. When I was younger and I was being sexually abused, I didn't feel like people were going to believe me. It was very much a culture of “Did you say no? Did you scream so that people could hear you?”
Screaming and fighting them off is not the legal precedent. Sometimes it’s safer to just go along with it. Our federal law acknowledges that. Does that mean that it's actually held up in court? That's arguable, at best. Still, according to the legal definitions, you can say no, by pushing someone away. You can say no by turning your head when somebody tries to kiss you.
Finally, consent should happen every time, with every activity. People may mock that and that's okay. But if (for example) you're in the middle of having sex, and somebody wants to go harder then if they're respectful, they're saying, “Is this okay? Does this feel okay? Are you okay? Is this okay?” That's asking for consent.
You can kiss somebody and that doesn't mean that you give consent for them to take your clothes off. You can make out with somebody and that doesn't mean that you've given consent to have sex. Socially, culturally, that's an expectation, but it’s wrong. That’s rape culture. Legally, that is not consent.
What you wear is not consent.
What location you're in is not consent. You can be laying on somebody's bed and that doesn't mean you're gonna have sex with them.
You have the right to stop and say “No, I changed my mind.” in the middle of it if that's what is okay with you.
Physiological responses, body responses, don't count as consent either. One of the biggest arguments I’ve ever heard for the idea that guys can be sexually abused is that they get hard-ons. When their penises are stimulated, it's a natural physical response. It does not mean that they want to have sex. If a girl gets wet, that is a natural physiological response. It does not mean that she's consenting to have sex.
You need to know that too. If you respond in certain ways, it doesn't mean that you wanted it. Abusers will definitely say that, but that's not what it means. It just means that your body is a cause and effect mechanism in that way and there are things that if you do, buttons that you push, so to speak, then results happen. Plain and simple. It has nothing to do with will or desire.
Sexual abuse doesn't care about who you are as a person. It doesn't care about what you want. Abuse is never about what you want. It's always about what they want and their power and control over you.
If you have experienced sexual abuse, I believe this is the most common type of abuse out there. It might be tied with emotional abuse. I know emotional abuse is very common, which we're going to talk about next week, but there are so many people who have been sexually abused who just don't feel comfortable talking about it! And sometimes a lot of times they've experienced it many, many times - whether it be by the same perpetrator every time or different perpetrators.
Abusers have like this sixth sense and they can tell when we have been a victim of some type of abuse before. People who give off this vibe are easy prey, walking around with a scent that says please attack me. They will. And sometimes it'll be a jump out of the bushes and rape you kind of an attack, but a lot of times it's more cunning than that. They'll worm their way into your life and get you to trust them and then they’ll destroy you.
Anyway, if you've experienced sexual abuse, you're not alone. That's the short of the long of it, you're not alone. And there are people that are trained to talk to you. So I would encourage you to reach out, you can call the National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673. Or you can go to rainn.org to chat with someone online. Sometimes speaking things out loud is so hard. Chatting through text might be easier. But don't suffer alone. You're not alone.
Statistically, somebody who's involved in domestic violence situation where there's physical abuse going on will more than likely experienced sexual abuse by that same partner at some point or another.
Let’s run through some red flags or warning signs to look out for as far as an abuser is concerned:
- They might try to cut you off from your friends and family
- They might gets extremely jealous or upset if you spend time away from them
- They might insult you (for example: “You can't do anything right.” or “You're worthless. No one could ever love you!”)
- They might try to prevent you from attending work or school
- They might not let you make decisions for yourself
- They might destroy property (yours or other people’s)
- They might threaten to or attempt to harm your pets
- They threaten to harm your children or take them away from you
- They might control your $ (That is actually the biggest way abusers keep victims stuck in abusive relationships.)
Effects of Being a Victim of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse can have psychological, emotional, and physical effects on a survivor.
Depression is one of the most common effects on survivors of sexual abuse.
Flashbacks (a symptom of PTSD) will make you feel like you're in that imminent danger situation again in this moment. You can have them in the middle of the grocery store or driving down the road or wherever... all of a sudden you're back in this terrifying situation all over again.
PTSD involves feelings of anxiety, stress and fear. It makes it really difficult to adjust and to cope after a traumatic experience.
Dissociation is a very common defense mechanism when somebody has been sexually abused, especially as a child, but even as an adult.
- You may dissociate during the event. In that case, while the person is abusing you, you check out and go somewhere else in your mind - somewhere that's safe and somewhere you're loved.
- On the other hand, you might dissociate after the attack. Some people will not remember huge portions of their childhood when they've experienced sexual abuse or other types of trauma as kids. Their minds will just totally block out those whole sections of their lives.
- Another way that dissociation shows up is spacing out in your everyday life - you just sort of go through the motions, but you're not really present. You're not really aware.
We can dissociate on a healthy level by watching a movie and not paying any attention to what's going on around us because we're focused on the movie and nothing else really matters. But when you go to a farther, more dangerous level of dissociation, it can be scary. I had a friend who had experienced lots of complex trauma, she came to one time and she was soaking wet, and had no idea why. That was really frightening for her and those who cared about her!
Panic attacks are another potential result of sexual abuse. With panic attacks, you suddenly and randomly become afraid. You're suddenly in fight or flight mode and you have no idea why. These are very common with people who have experienced abuse or high levels of stress.
Pregnancy is another effect to consider. Like I said, a lot of times sexual abuse within an intimate relationship, is not the only form of abuse that's going on. Pregnancy can be a means of control for an abuser. You might be willing to endure a certain amount of abuse, but would you be willing to put your child through it? Most people are easily swayed to do whatever their abuser demands if it will protect their child.
Sleep disorders - often times people when people have experienced abuse of any kind they have trouble sleeping. If they are able to fall asleep, they have nightmares. Others just can't go to sleep at all. Some may be afraid to go to sleep because their abuse is or was happening when they are/were sleeping. Other people sleep all the time. (This may be a depression symptom - where they just don't want to deal with life at all.)
Another effect of sexual abuse is low self esteem. A lot of victims of sexual abuse blame themselves unless and until they get into some good trauma therapy and process their abuse. Then they will work out the fact that it was never their fault. Sexual abuse is ALWAYS a crime of power and control. Always. If we felt like we were in a position to be able to stop it, it wouldn't have happened. So whether you're a child, a teenager, or an adult who has been sexually abused, it wasn’t your fault. Somebody took advantage of a situation and they harmed you. What they did (and maybe are still doing) was (and is) wrong.
It's really easy for people to feel like abuse is some kind of a death sentence. They internalize beliefs like “I'm not worthy.” “I'm not lovable.” and “I don't deserve to be safe.” But none of those are true. Okay? Those lies are not true. From somebody who has been through abuse after abuse, I’m telling you that abuse is not a death sentence. There are good things to come. There's a bright future waiting for you. You just need to get help, because I don't think that this is something that you can do on your own. I don't think that sexual abuse is a hurdle that almost anybody can do on their own.
Get yourself a good trauma counselor or look up something online, if nothing else. It's not an easy road, but it’s definitely something you can do. I believe in you! You ARE worthy of love and safety. Little by little, you can take your life back. It starts with taking the first step.
If you're being sexually abused, talk to somebody trustworthy. Call the National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (or 1-800-656-4673) or chat with someone online at rainn.org to figure out what your next step will be.
Thanks for reading!
Until I see you again, stay safe!
Other articles in this series:
Article 3: The article you're currently in
Article 4: What Is Emotional Abuse? *coming soon*