How Do I Know If What Happened To Me Was Child Sexual Abuse?

Many people ask, “how do I know if I was sexually abused?” or “what are the signs of sexual abuse?”

There are many reasons why it can be challenging to know if what happened to a victim is child sexual abuse.

Whether it is because predators intentionally confuse victims about the nature of the abuse they are committing, corrupt institutions or people in denial attempt to harbor or hide victims’ abuse, or victims do not know how sexual abuse is legally defined — abuse is abuse.

Each state has statutes and laws that dictate what constitutes sexual abuse for purposes of filing a sexual abuse lawsuit. To evaluate your potential claim concerning these statutes and laws, the best thing you can do is contact our firm for a free and confidential legal consultation with one of our trauma-informed advocates. The most important thing you need to know is that we believe you and that what you experienced was undoubtedly wrong.

I Thought We Had a Love Relationship. Or I Felt Pleasure. Was It Still Abuse?

Children DO want and crave love and attention from the adults in their lives.

Children DO NOT want or crave sexual abuse.

Child predators take the innocent love of a child and manipulate it, tricking the child into thinking that the sexual abuse they are experiencing is a natural expression of “love.”

In fact, 80.5% of child sexual is perpetrated by some that the child already knows, loves, and respects. Predators count on that and use the child’s love to ensure compliance and silence.

Child sexual abuse is never the child’s fault, even if you believe that the predator loved you, or the predator was someone you loved.

Legally, children cannot consent to sexual behavior from an adult. Any sexual behavior by an adult on a child is sexual abuse, even if—and especially if—that child was tricked and manipulated into the abuse.

An adult manipulating a child and convincing them they have a special relationship is an example of predatory grooming—tricks and lies that make the child think that the abuse is “normal.”

Child predators trick children by manipulating their emotions, including convincing the child that the abuse is an expression of love. These tricks include:

  • Giving the child special gifts
  • Telling the child they are different from others
  • Manipulating the child into feeling physical pleasure from the abuse. Such as inappropriate physical affection or bringing the child to orgasm.

Even if you loved the adult who sexually abused you when you were a child, the abuse was a crime and not your fault.

What If I Kept Going Back? Or Accepted Gifts And Money From The Abuser? Does This Make The Abuse My Fault?

No, the abuse was not your fault. Child sexual abuse is never the fault of the child.

Predators are manipulative and use behaviors known as predatory grooming to trick children into thinking that the abuse is normal.

One common manipulation tactic used is giving the victim gifts. Gifts are a part of the strategy to gain special access to the child and make the child feel special and important. Gifts are often used to manipulate their victims into believing the perpetrator loves and cares about them. Gifts may become part of the “secret” that predators ask victims to keep quiet.

Predators will give victims gifts to ensure silence, implying that the child is a “willing partner.”

Perpetrators have been known to give their victims cash, technology (cell phones, tablets, computers), prepaid credit cards, sports or concert tickets, toys, jewelry, food, alcohol, and expensive clothing.

Accepting these gifts does not mean that you consented to or wanted the abuse.

It is very common for victims to continue to engage with the perpetrator, even when they don’t want to or are confused by the perpetrator’s behavior.

The victim will often return to the predator out of fear, pressure, shame, confusion, manipulation, or a feeling that although the abuse is bad, the predator will pay attention to or protect the child.

No matter how many times a victim may have returned, the abuse was not their fault. Children cannot consent to sexual abuse.

The Perpetrator Never Touched Me. He Only Took Pictures or Made me Touch Him. Is That Still Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse includes acts that don’t have to involve physical molestation from the perpetrator.

For example, the predator may have:

  • Made you sexually touch him.
  • Watched you without your permission (voyeurism).
  • Made you act out sexually with other children for his or her pleasure.
  • Taken sexual pictures of you to produce child pornography. Or what sexual abuse professionals today refer to as Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM).

These are all forms of child sexual abuse and are crimes on state and federal levels.

I Didn’t Fight Back or Say “no.” Is The Abuse My Fault?

Child sexual abuse is never the fault of the child. Even if you didn’t fight back or say “no.” Most child sexual abuse is not perpetrated under threat or force.

This is because of a behavior that predators use called predatory grooming.

Predatory grooming is how abusers manipulate a child into thinking that the abuse is “normal.” Predatory grooming also serves to shame the child into staying silent about the abuse, sometimes for decades.

Examples of how predators take power away from their victims include:

  • Lying to the victims.
  • Isolating the victims.
  • Flattering the victims with gifts and praise to make them feel “special.”
  • Sharing secrets and seeing if the victims can keep secrets.
  • Manipulating family members to trust the predator, so victims are less likely to be believed.
  • Blurring sexual boundaries, such as between kindness and sexual acts.
  • Using drugs and alcohol.
  • Normalizing pornography in their interactions with the child.
  • Using their position of power to exert control over the child.

Our understanding of predatory grooming, and its horrific effects on victims, has increased dramatically over the past decade. Understanding and identifying the signs of grooming do two things: it helps us identify and prevent potential child sexual abuse and help survivors heal from the shame that predatory grooming causes.

My Friend Was Abused, And Their Abuse Was Far Worse Than Mine. Was I Really Abused?

We are so sorry to hear that you and your friend have experienced abuse.

Remember that child sexual abuse remains child sexual abuse even if some have suffered greater horrors than others.

There is no need to compare the pain of your abuse to anyone else’s. Your experience, pain, and healing are yours, and no one has the right to minimize or marginalize your experience.

No one else knows how the sexual abuse affected you except for you. No one knows how those effects have changed over time except for you.

The long-term negative effects of abuse can vary due to many factors:

  • The severity of the abuse.
  • The relationship of the predator to the victim.
  • whether or not the victim reported and the response they received,
  • and many other factors.

We honor your journey and where you are right now.

Our team of survivor advocates and lawyers honor every survivor’s individual experience. Contact us to discuss a path forward to help you achieve YOUR goals for healing and justice.

Our staff has extensive experience in helping abuse survivors reclaim their power and seek justice. Contact us for a free confidential consultation.

There Was No Intercourse or Penetration. Was I Sexually Abused?

Yes. It was child sexual abuse.

The legal definition of child sexual abuse includes any sexual act between an adult and a minor—or between two minors when one child exerts power over the other.

Child sexual abuse can also include forcing, coercing, or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual activity.

Other examples of child sexual abuse include non-contact acts such as:

  • Exhibitionism.
  • Creating child pornography with the child sexual abuse material.
  • Watched the child without their permission (voyeurism).
  • Communicating sexually by phone or Internet.
  • Exposing the child to pornography

Taking sexual pictures of the child to produce child pornography. Or what sexual abuse professionals today refer to as Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM).

I Was Sexually Abused by a Nun. People Try to Tell Me it Wasn’t Abuse. What Should I Do?

Yes, nuns do sexually abuse children.

While women account for less than 10% of perpetrators, they can sexually abuse both boys and girls, causing horrible trauma to the victims.

We often hear questions like “I was sexually abused as a boy by a nun, was I sexually abused?” or  “I was sexually abused as a girl by a nun. Was I sexually abused?”

Fortunately, our culture is beginning to understand the pain and long-term negative effects caused by female predators. No matter the sex of the perpetrator, it is abuse when an adult sexually exploits a child.

We know how hard it is to carry the pain of child sexual abuse while others around us try and dismiss it, or minimize it.

I Tried to Tell an Adult When the Abuse Was Going on, And No One Believed Me. Why Would They Believe Me Now?

While sharing the stories of our child sexual abuse can be one of the most liberating and healing things we can do, it isn’t easy. Sometimes we choose to tell people who are not ready to hear us.

Identifying who to tell and in what order can make a big difference as to whether our experience goes smoothly or is made more painful by the reactions of people who might deny the realities that we have faced.

It is great news that the past 20 years have seen a sea change in how our society looks at child sexual abuse and survivors. While things are not perfect, survivors are believed more and more. Public awareness increasingly expands as people share their stories and the media covers high-profile cases.

What Is The Legal Definition of Child Sexual Abuse?

Each state has statutes and laws that dictate what constitutes sexual abuse for purposes of filing a sexual abuse lawsuit. In order for us to evaluate your potential claim in relation to these statutes and laws, the best thing you can do is contact our firm for a free and confidential legal consultation with one of our trauma-informed advocates. The most important thing you need to know is that we believe you and that what you experienced was undoubtedly wrong.

The Abuse Continued After I Turned 18. Is It Still Sexual Abuse?

Whether or not you can bring a lawsuit varies based on the laws of the state where the incidents took place. Undoubtedly, what you experienced was abuse and should have never taken place, however, depending upon where the abuse took place, there may be limitations on how and when you can file a lawsuit.

If you were sexually abused by a priest, counselor, teacher, coach, or other trusted adult, you still have rights. We want to help you. Contact us confidentially today.