Sexual abuse in relationships
What is talked about much less is the sexual abuse that can exist between those who are, or have been, intimate partners and which can exist alongside the more widely recognised aspects of abuse.
Sexual abuse between those who are, or have been, intimate partners may include rape and sexual assault. It may also include non-contact abuse, such as being forced to look at pornographic material or being forced to engage in sexual acts with someone else
(e.g. prostitution, swinging, dogging, working as an escort). It may also include activities such as sending inappropriate messages and grooming, either online or face-to-face. Research suggests that rape or sexual assault is rarely a ‘one-off’ incident.
‘A woman who is raped by a stranger lives with a memory of a horrible attack; a woman who is raped by her husband lives with her rapist’ – David Finkelhor and Kersti Yllo.
‘Rape by intimate partners is more common than stranger rape’ – Bachman & Saltzman, 1995; Finkelhor & Yllo, 1985; Randall & Haskell, 1995.
There are differences between the rape or sexual abuse perpetrated by a stranger and the rape or sexual abuse perpetrated by a current or former partner. These differences can sometimes make it more difficult to acknowledge that sexual abuse is happening. Some of these differences are listed below:
- The sexual abuse is carried out by someone with whom you have a shared past, a home and even children.
- It is a betrayal of trust by someone you thought you knew well.
- You may feel a sense of loyalty towards them and/or their family.
- You may share the same social networks and fear that no-one will believe you.
- It is difficult for you to see them as a rapist or acknowledge that what they have done is a crime.
- You may not recognise what has happened as rape or sexual assault because of your cultural or religious beliefs around a woman’s obligations and duties to submit to sex in a relationship.
- At some point you will have had consensual sex with them – possibly weeks, days or even hours earlier.
- There may have been no violence allowing you to think that you must have consented in some way. You did not.
- Your partner may have called it ‘make up sex’ following a violent assault and you ‘complied’ because you feared another violent assault and were trying to protect yourself from further harm. Compliant sex is not consensual sex.
- You partner convinced you it was ‘your duty’ to have sex with them. Coercive sex is not consensual sex.
- You may have felt humiliated and shamed by the sexual acts that have been forced upon you – such as inserting objects inside you, forcing you to have group or anal sex.
- You are financially dependent on your partner, making it harder for you to see a way out of the abusive relationship and therefore more vulnerable to the possibility of repeated assaults.
Research suggests that rape or sexual abuse by a current or former partner can have a long-lasting impact on a person’s mental, emotional or physical health. It can lead to PTSD, suicidal thoughts, nervous breakdown, increased alcohol and drug use, more pregnancies and more sexually transmitted diseases.
If you are currently in an abusive relationship and need help,
contact IDAS on 03000 110 110.
If you are in immediate danger, call 999.