Sexual abuse

Unwanted sexual activity forced on you by someone else is sexual abuse. It has far reaching effects on how you feel about yourself, but support is available.

Sexual abuse is the forcing of unwanted sexual activity by one person on another by the use of threats or coercion. Such behaviour involves betrayal of that person's trust and may or may not involve physical contact.

People who have been sexually abused may not have clear memories of the abuse, but find that certain experiences trigger intense feelings of fear, nausea and despair. These triggers can include specific sounds, tastes, smells, words, or touch.

Often, the first step in healing from sexual abuse involves having an awareness that some type of violation has occurred.

Sexual abuse survivors experience many of the reactions experienced by trauma victims. The following reactions—not limited to sexual abuse survivors—are common:

Self esteem

  • Feeling you are not a worthwhile person.
  • Feeling bad, dirty, or ashamed of yourself.
  • Feeling self-destructive or suicidal.


  • Having trouble knowing how to feel.
  • Being afraid of your feelings.
  • Worrying about going crazy.
  • Having a narrow range of feelings.
  • Having intrusive memories, images, nightmares, or reliving past traumatic events.
  • Being increasingly angry or irritable.

Your body

  • Difficulty in being aware of what your body is telling you.
  • Intentionally hurting yourself or abusing your body.
  • Disrupted sleep patterns.


  • Finding it difficult to trust others.
  • Experiencing panic when people get too close.
  • Difficulty in making a commitment.
  • Getting involved with someone who reminds you of an abuser or someone you know is not good for you.


  • Difficulties "staying present" during sexual intimacy.
  • Experiencing numbness or panic while having sex.
  • Avoiding sex, or pursuing sex you don't really want.
  • Experiencing "flashbacks" during sex.

If you think you may have been sexually abused, speaking to a counsellor may be extremely helpful in the healing process.  In New Zealand, sexual abuse counselling is funded through ACC.  Please contact ACC directly for information on their counselling service and providers.

Reference: The Courage to Heal. Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. New York: Harper and Row, 1994.