Defining Dating Abuse: Sexual Abuse

August 16, 2022

Understanding common types of abuse will better prepare you to identify them when you see them, whether it be in a relationship that you are in or one that you are observing.  Here are some of the common types of abuse that can take place in a dating relationship: physical abuse, emotional and verbal abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, digital abuse, and stalking.  This is the third week of our series: Defining Dating Abuse, which will cover each type of abuse that is listed above.  In the first week, we covered the topic of physical abuse and in the second week, we covered the topic of verbal and emotional abuse.  Today, we will cover the topic of sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse refers to any behavior that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually that they don’t want to do.  It can also refer to behavior that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity takes place, including oral sex, rape, or controlling reproductive methods and choices.

Everyone has the right to decide what they do or don’t want to do sexually, and not all sexual assaults are violent “attacks.”  Most victims of sexual assault know their assailants, and people of all genders and sexualities can be victims or perpetrators of sexual abuse.  That includes people who are married, dating, in a “friends with benefits” arrangement, or just acquaintances.

Examples of sexual abuse include:

  • Unwanted kissing or touching.
  • Unwanted rough or violent sexual activity.
  • Refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control.
  • Preventing someone from using protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Sexual contact with someone intoxicated from drugs or alcohol, unconscious, asleep, or otherwise unable to give clear and informed consent.
  • Threatening, pressuring, or otherwise forcing someone to have sex or perform sexual acts.
  • Using sexual insults toward someone.


Sexual abuse is never the victim’s fault.  Just because someone “didn’t say no” or doesn’t resist unwanted sexual advances doesn’t mean that they consent. Defining consent can be tricky, and we recommend that you click here to read our blog post on consent for further explanation.  Physical resistance can sometimes put victims at higher risk for further abuse, and the narrative that a lack of resistance equals consent makes it more difficult for survivors to report abuse.  It’s up to each of us to understand consent and to communicate and respect the boundaries of our intimate partners, without exception.

Your safety should always be your first priority, so if you are experiencing sexual abuse, try to get to a safe place away from your attacker where you can think through your next steps.  You may be scared, angry, confused, and hurt, but remember that the abuse was not your fault and that you deserve to be in a healthy relationship where you are safe and respected.

Contact someone you trust. You may be in shock after having been sexually assaulted, and you will almost certainly feel a mix of complex emotions. Having someone there to support you can help you express and process these feelings in a way that doesn’t threaten your safety, and can give you room to focus on your healing while they help with everything else.  If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to a friend or family member, please reach out to STAND! or call their crisis line at (888) 215-5555.

Go to an emergency room or health clinic. It’s extremely important for you to seek health care as soon as you can after being assaulted. There may also be sexual assault advocates in the area who can assist you and answer any questions. A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) can provide these services and collect evidence in case you decide to pursue legal action in the future.

Options Health is a safe place where you can confidentially come and discuss sexual health, pregnancy, and relationship issues with one of our patient advocates.  Feel free to contact us today to take advantage of our free services, including pregnancy testing, ultrasound, pregnancy options consultation, STD testing, and abortion aftercareCall us or text us to schedule an appointment. We are here for you and ready to listen!