Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is any kind of unwanted sexual attention or activity, whether there is physical contact or not. Both children and adults can be victims, and while abuse may be a crime, they also have a right to sue those negligent. A sexual abuse lawyer can help you understand your options for seeking justice and recovering damages.

What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse is any sexual interaction between a child and an adult or even another child. The perpetrator uses the child for stimulation, whether the two have physical contact or never touch.

Sexual abuse of a child can cause immediate physical or emotional harm, but it also has a lasting impact. Some of the long-term consequences of child sexual abuse are:[1]

  • Trauma disorders
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Behavior problems
  • Substance use disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Self-harm
  • Later abuse

Early interventions, including therapy, make a big difference in helping a child cope with sexual abuse. These young victims need mental health treatment, supportive, caring adults, and a safe home environment to minimize complications. Unfortunately, many do not get the support they need.

Sexual Abuse and Assault in Adults

Sexual assault and abuse occur in adults as well. It may be ongoing partner or spousal abuse or a one-time assault, but both are damaging. Potential consequences include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or anxiety, sexual dysfunction, social isolation, fear of intimacy, suicidal thoughts, and misuse of alcohol or drugs, among many others.

What to Do if You Have Been Abused or Assaulted

If you have been a victim of sexual abuse or an incident of assault, the first and most important thing to do is get help. Remove yourself from the situation, go somewhere safe, and get medical attention if necessary.

Once you are safe and have had medical needs met, take the following steps:

  1. Call a Crisis Line or Tell a Friend
    The assault is not just physically damaging. Sexual crimes also harm your mental health. Consider calling a crisis line for support. They can also suggest your next steps. If you have someone close you trust and feel safe with, tell them what happened so they can be there for you as you get medical care and talk to the police.
  2. Report the Incident to the Police
    Sexual abuse and assault are crimes, so report it to the police. This will help bring the perpetrator to justice. By reporting it while you are receiving medical care, nurses and physicians can ensure that evidence gets preserved. Do not shower or change your clothes before getting medical help. Do not change anything where the assault occurred, for instance, if it happened in your home. Let the police collect evidence and make the report.
  3. Talk to a Lawyer Experienced in Helping Victims
    The legal system is challenging to navigate for non-legal professionals, especially after a traumatizing experience. Meet with a lawyer who represents sexual abuse victims. They can help you understand your rights and your options. They will explain the criminal process and help you take other actions if you choose to do so.
  4. Get Mental Health Care
    The repercussions of sexual assault and abuse often persist. After you have taken care of immediate needs, such as medical care and legal consultations, see a therapist or counselor to process the events. This will help you recover more quickly so that you can get on with your life.

What to Do if You Think Your Child Has Been Sexually Abused

Many of the same steps apply if you have a child who has been sexually abused or if you suspect they have been abused. First, be aware of the signs of child sexual abuse. Children often do not say anything about what is happening to them, but observant adults may note characteristics and take action:[2]

  • Physical injuries or bruising in the genital area
  • Unusual changes in behaviors
  • Regressive behaviors
  • Talking less than usual
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors or talk
  • Mood swings
  • Avoiding school or other activities
  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Nightmares and fear of being alone
  • Not wanting to be alone with certain people

If you suspect abuse or know abuse has occurred, get professional help. A therapist experienced in child sexual abuse can help your child open up and heal from the trauma. Involve the police, but first, be sure that the child is physically and emotionally safe.

What Are My Legal Options After Sexual Abuse?

The first step you should take is to notify the police. This may trigger criminal charges, but it isn’t ultimately up to you. The police investigate, and the prosecutor decides to charge the perpetrator or not. It often depends on the evidence.[3]

What you can do as the victim, regardless of the prosecutor’s decision, is file a civil lawsuit. The purpose of a civil lawsuit is to recover damages. It provides compensation to victims of negligence, and in the case of sexual abuse, intentional wrongs.[3]

Who you can and should sue, the timeline, how to prove negligence, and what damages to expect are all important considerations. There are pros and cons of filing a civil lawsuit after a traumatic experience. Filing a lawsuit is ultimately your decision, but a lawyer with experience helping victims can provide advice.

Whether for you or your child, a knowledgeable lawyer can answer the questions and guide your next steps as you seek justice for sexual abuse and assault. Once you have taken steps to protect yourself or your child physically and emotionally, contact a lawyer. 

  1. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (n.d.). Sexual Abuse. Effects.
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  2. RAINN. (n.d.). Warning Signs for Young Children.
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  3. Mindlin, J.E. and Reeves, L.J.H. (2005). Rights and Remedies: Meeting the Civil Legal Needs of Sexual Violence Survivors. The Center for Law & Public Policy on Sexual Violence.
    Retrieved from: