scrapbook page with flowers, bruised hands and the title Breaking Down Physical and Sexual Abuse

Breaking Down Physical and Sexual Abuse

Continuing with this month’s breakdown of abuse and how it shows up in cycles and affects our relationships, I wanted to go into more detail on physical and sexual abuse. These are often more acknowledged than mental abuse or neglect, however there are still many victims who are left without help.

I’ll start with physical abuse.

This is typically the most obvious form of abuse due to wounds and other obvious marks left on the victim. It is important to understand that not all attackers leave visible markings. They might be careful about not hitting hard enough to leave wounds, or they may be careful in choosing the locations of the wounds in order to prevent them from being seen. The most basic definition of physical abuse is using physical force in order to hurt another person.

Battering is a big part of physical abuse.

It is the use of violence in order to establish power or control through fear and intimidation. This usually occurs within an intimate relationship. It can be anything from cuts to broken bones, shoving, strangling, ripping, slapping, biting, kicking, bruises, burns, punching, scrapes, pinching, prevention of medical care or threats of any of the above.

Teen dating violence is a major source of cruelty.

Not only does this harm the teen physically at the time, but it prevents her from knowing what to expect in a healthy relationship. Some of the most popular reasons victims use for not getting help are fear, a lack of control, peer pressure, and concern about the public response. Teens that are physically abused usually have trouble sleeping, eating or concentrating. The chances of depression are increased as well as self-destructive behavior as a result of the abuse.

Victims of physical child abuse usually avoid physical contact with others.

According to PennState Children’s Hospital, child physical abuse is a major recurring problem in society. It can be defined as intentionally injuring a child and in most cases, often occurring at the hands of a member or trusted friend of the family. This happens to over a million children in the United States every year. Typically victims try to conceal their injuries, give inconsistent stories to explain their wounds and may often seem frightened. They may miss a lot of school or want to spend more time at school to avoid going home. It’s also common that they’ll have more difficulty getting along with others. They’ll probably play aggressively or give into others easily.

Children living in a home with physical spousal abuse are usually at a greater risk.

Not only are the risks of physical abuse higher, but so are the risks for sexual abuse. Abused mothers have a harder time protecting and providing for their children due to the distraction of being physically abused themselves. Abusive fathers are less likely to care for their children and less likely to be affectionate or rational. During a study about the cycle of child abuse, it was found that more children who witness spousal abuse or who were abused themselves were more likely to have behavioral problems. The victims of child abuse were much more aggressive than those that only witnessed spousal abuse without being physically abused themselves.

A questionnaire by the General Health Questionnaires and the Present State Examination in a random sample of women revealed that those who had been abused at some point in their life from childhood to adulthood had higher levels of mental illnesses, mental distress and abnormal behaviors.

And now to break down Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can come in many forms. It can mean any sexual contact between an adult and someone under eighteen, between two children or between two adults. Basically, it’s any situation in which the attacker overpowers the victim in a sexual manner. This overpowering can refer to physical force, threats or manipulation. Forcing someone into an unwanted or unsafe sexual act, regardless of the attacker’s relationship to the victim, is considered abuse. This includes oral, anal or vaginal penetration, sexual assault, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, exploitation through prostitution or production of pornographic materials or inappropriate touching.

According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, it’s common for drugs and alcohol to be used in order to make the victim less resistant and less likely to remember.

Some drugs commonly used are Rohypnol, GHB, GBL and Benzodiazapines. These drugs are typically odorless, colorless, and tasteless in liquid, can take effect within five to thirty minutes and result in the victim struggling to move or talk. They can also cause the victim to pass out and wake up later with no memory. Ketamine and Ecstasy are also used to make victims easier targets.

Sexual abuse can involve violence and emotional trauma.

Sex based crimes are actually much more common than most of the public is aware of. This is because they are also the most un-reported crimes due to the victims not being able to or willing to report it. Many times, victims feel shame, self-blame, fear of retaliation or fear of being labeled a liar.

Incest is a common factor in many reported cases of sexual abuse, as well as abuse among family members (biological, adoptive and/or step families). Incest is defined as a sexual act between two biologically related people and according to, the most common occurrence is between father and daughter though that isn’t always the case.

Another common type of sexual abuse is acquaintance rape.

It is likely that the victim will know the attacker, meaning that the attacker has information about the victim and possibly their trust. The victim also is less likely to fight back and more likely to go into shock. They will possibly blame themselves for the attack in these cases rather than consider it sexual assault.

Stranger rape occurs when the victim doesn’t know the attacker.

According to the RAINN organization, there are three typical kinds of stranger rape: blitz, contact or home invasion. Blitz sexual assault occurs when the victim is picked and random with no prior contact, usually at night and in a public location. Contact sexual assault occurs when the attacker contacts the victim beforehand, gaining a sort of trust before leading her somewhere (such as a car) and then sexually assaulting her. Home invasion sexual assault occurs when the attacker breaks into the victim’s home and assaults her.

Gang rape occurs when the victim is sexually abused by more than one attacker.

Not only is the victim being sexually assaulted by more than one attacker, but there is also an audience to the victim’s humiliation as there is more than one attacker present. Torture and ridicule are usually present and the victim can be in a lot of pain afterwards- both physical and emotional. It is not uncommon for victims to feel isolated, dirty and overwhelmed.

There are a lot of possible signs of sexual abuse.

While some victims may show no signs at all, others (especially children) may have difficulty walking or sitting, have nightmares or bedwetting, a change in appetite or display unusual sexual knowledge or behavior. Victims of sexual abuse are likely to develop rape-related post-traumatic stress disorder. They are also more likely to attempt suicide than non-victims. It is also common for them to have mood swings, anger, anxiety, fear and depression. Women are likely to either become promiscuous or sexually-withdrawn after being raped as a way of coping. It’s rare to have a perfectly normal sex life after being sexually abused.

Victims are likely to have depression, intrusive thoughts and memory avoidance. They might end up dependent and self-defeated. Many are also likely to have psychiatric disorders or possible long term psychiatric morbidity. Women who are sexually abused as children are also likely to have issues and disorders as well as substance abuse. It seems the severity of the abuse affects the severity of these possible side effects. There have also been studies that link being a victim of sexual abuse involving penetration to leading to a lack of religion as well as marital and sexual relationship issues.

Again, this is a heavy topic.

It can be overwhelming and hard to digest, so I’m going to stop here for now. Next week I’ll be back to talk about mental abuse and neglect so that we can get a fuller picture. Then I’ll move on to some of the effects on relationships and how cycles form.

**If you or someone you know has been or are being abused in any sense of the word, please make sure that you seek out some support. Find a way to keep yourself and those you love safe.

The national domestic violence hotline is available 24 hours at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233). They can help in many ways, from answering questions and talking through your options to helping you find a temporary shelter.

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, you can dial 988 for immediate access to mental health crisis services.

And if you believe you are a witness to abuse, please speak up. If you are unsure, call one of the above numbers or talk to someone you trust. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Please remember that you are not alone and that your life has value.

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