About Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is any behaviour of a sexual nature which is unwanted and which takes place without consent or understanding or when coercion is used to obtain consent.

It may not be violent but will always be violating.

What is Sexual Violence?

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 notes ‘consent’ as when a person chooses to participate and ‘has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.’ Without consent, any kind of sexual activity is sexual violence.

Forms of sexual violence include attempted rape; unwanted sexual touching; forcing  sexual acts upon someone, including oral sex; penetration of the victim’s body, also called rape. (Rape is a form of sexual violence but not all sexual violence is rape.)

Sexual violence can be perpetrated in different ways. The long-term effects of sexual violence can include many emotional, psychological and physical conditions. The experience of sexual violence and abuse at any age can have devastating effects on every aspect of a person’s being and life.

Further definitions

Historical Abuse

Historical abuse – also referred to as non-recent abuse – is when an adult was abused as a child or young person under the age of 18.

The impact of abuse, no matter when it happened, can have a life-long effect. Whether the abuse happened once or multiple times, 5 years or 70 years ago, whatever the circumstances, it’s NEVER too late to get support.


Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse encapsulates ANY sexual activity between a child/adolescent and an adult, with or without physical touch.

Please note: If you are a survivor of CSA, you may find some of the information triggering.


About child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse usually involves sexual abuse by a person in a position of power, known to the child, who exploits the child’s trust in them. The child is often manipulated in a way that leaves them feeling responsible and believing that they have to keep what happened secret or something bad will happen. Child sexual abuse includes a wide range of sexual behaviours that take place between a child and an older or more powerful person. Behaviours that are sexually abusive usually involve bodily contact. However, behaviours may be sexually abusive even if they do not involve contact, for example – being made to watch sexual acts or being exploited to create pornographic material.


Who does child sexual abuse happen to?

Sexual abuse happens to girls and boys. Children can be sexually abused by men or women, older children (including brothers and sisters) and by groups of people including religious groups and peers. It may be a single incident or a number of incidents over a number of years.


Why does child sexual abuse remain hidden?

Many adults have gone through life without telling anyone about what happened to them. They may have been threatened with awful consequences if they did tell. They may not have known that what was happening was wrong and was harmful to them. They may have believed that the adults around them needed protecting from such knowledge, or been afraid that they would be blamed for what happened or accused of lying. In many cases children do try to tell, verbally or otherwise, but, very often, no one hears them or believes them.


What are the effects of child sexual abuse?

The impact of child sexual abuse can be long-term and sometimes lifelong. Although the sexual abuse happened a long time ago in the past, it may remain difficult for survivors to cope in the present. Many people with drug and alcohol dependencies, eating disorders or self-harming behaviours and those in mental health services and prisons have been sexually abused as children. Many more people, who outwardly live successful lives, may continue to feel the pain and isolation of sexual trauma – the term we use to describe the long-term effects of sexual abuse.


Survive does not work with children, but we see many adults who were subjected to abuse as a child and continue to live with the impacts on their mental and physical health.

Ritual Abuse

If you think you are a survivor of ritual abuse, then some of the following information may be triggering for you.

This is abuse that occurs in a context linked to some symbol or group activity that has a religious, magical or supernatural connotation and where the invocation of these symbols or activities, repeated over time, is used to frighten and intimidate children and gain control over them.


What is a ritual?

Rituals form a normal part of most of our lives. A ritual is a symbolic action. Individuals may use rituals as means to feel reassured or encouraged. For example, we may use a ‘lucky’ mascot in exams or sport activities. Similarly, we may develop routines or customs as individuals, families, or groups, which help to reassure us or enable us to bond with each other.

What is ritual abuse?

The term ritual abuse is generally used to mean repeated, extreme, sadistic abuse, especially of children, within a group setting. The group often has an ideology of some kind which is used to justify the abuse, and the abusive rituals in turn are used to reinforce its ideology. These activities are kept secret from society at large because they violate society’s norms.

What is meant by ‘an ideology’?

An ideology is a framework of particular values and practices that a group may hold. Any ideology can be twisted or adapted to abusive ends. Groups practising ritual abuse may have a religious or pseudo-religious ideology, or they may not. They may be networks of paedophiles who use techniques to indoctrinate and manipulate children or young adults for their own gratification and profit ( e.g. indecent images or films of those whom they abuse.) Sometimes a particular religious group (usually a cult or fringe group) has a small network of leaders who carry ‘spiritual’ authority over vulnerable children or adults, and can justify their abuse as ‘exorcism’ or even ‘healing’.

Who perpetrates ritual abuse?

Ritual abuse is perpetrated by people from all walks of life and geographic areas, both rural and urban. They may be of any age, gender or sexuality and are sometimes professional people whom nobody would obviously suspect.

In some instances, ritual abuse is centred around the family, and may be transgenerational meaning there is abuse within particular families which stretches back for generations.

Other perpetrators may be non-related adults who recruit and groom children whom they access through social groups, schools, or church activities. Sometimes groups of teenagers who may have been abused themselves form ad hoc groups which target younger children or vulnerable adults (e.g. adults with learning disabilities).

What kinds of abuse occur?

Physical abuse can occur as beatings, torture, cutting, confinement, forced ingestion of drugs or bodily fluids. Emotional abuse involves trickery, deceit, emotional manipulation, mind control, and blaming the victim. Sexual abuse is sadistic and may involve anal, oral or vaginal penetration, even of extremely young children. Spiritual abuse manifests itself as reversal of good and evil, a destruction-based morality, and the denial of autonomy and freedom of thought.

Why do so few people believe ritual abuse survivors?

Abusive groups keep their secrets well, and terrorise their victims into silence. When survivors of ritual abuse do disclose, their stories can sound fanciful, horrific, and extreme. It is easier for listeners to dismiss survivors’ stories as barely credible. Society does not want to believe that norms and laws can be so blatantly and extremely violated, and often turns its back in denial that such activities could actually occur.

What are the symptoms of ritual abuse in children and adults?

All abuse causes trauma, but ritual abuse can cause trauma that is especially severe and deep-rooted.

Sometimes survivors have a fascination with or a phobia of particular objects, events, times of the year, or places. There may or may not be a conscious memory connected with childhood events, but such objects or events may trigger strong and disturbing feelings and thoughts, or periods of ‘zoning out’ – forgetfulness, and/or a lack of awareness of the passing of time, known as dissociation. This happens because an abused child learns how to cope with extreme and repeated stress by ‘leaving their body’ in order to survive psychologically. This becomes a pattern for coping in later life.

Sometimes a person who has suffered ritual abuse may find themselves experiencing intense fear, dread, or audiovisual sensations ‘out of the blue,’ and as if it is happening in the present – this is known as a flashback. Flashbacks are fragmented memories rising up into consciousness.

How can Survive help me if I have suffered from ritual abuse?

Survive supports survivors of sexual violence and abuse who live in York or North Yorkshire, UK.

The first thing we do is to believe you. We have many years of experience between us of hearing ritual abuse survivors’ stories. We will validate your experience and allow you to share it. We will not judge you.

If you live in York or North Yorkshire, you can phone our helpline or make an appointment for support work or counselling in the first instance before progressing to trauma therapy.

We may provide some advice on staying safe and looking after yourself. We may be able to suggest simple practical techniques that will help you to stay grounded and aware of the present moment. You can borrow books or resources that can help you understand dissociation, flashbacks and other effects of ritual abuse. We can recommend particular counsellors and therapists who have knowledge of ritual abuse, and help you to access their services, if that is what you feel you need.

If you are not living in York or North Yorkshire, you can find your local support service here via The Survivor’s Trust.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is often talked about in terms of physical, emotional and financial abuse. However, domestic violence can also involve rape and sexual assault.

Sexual violence 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 violence perpetrated by a stranger and the rape or sexual violence perpetrated by a current or former partner. These differences can sometimes make it more difficult to acknowledge that sexual violence is happening. Some of these differences are listed below:

  • The sexual violence 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 violence 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.

The impact of sexual violence

Understanding the impacts of sexual trauma

Sexual trauma is the term we use to describe the long-term effects of sexual violence.

Rape and sexual abuse are crimes of violence and humiliation which can be devastating. Nobody invites rape or abuse. Rape and sexual violence are always the responsibility of the abuser. Always.

Everybody’s reaction to being subjects to sexual violence and abuse is unique; and it’s important to remember that whatever feelings you have are valid.

If you have been subjected to sexual violence as an adult and/or as a child, you may be experiencing some or all of the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Shock
  • Fear
  • Isolation
  • Sadness
  • Shame
  • Loneliness
  • Flashbacks and nightmares
  • Panic attacks
  • Self-doubt and low self-esteem
  • Guilt
  • Obsessive behaviour
  • Feelings of disconnectedness – ‘zoning out’ of the world around you
  • Substance abuse, such as drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs

This is not an exhaustive list but is an indication of the wide range of reactions different people have.

You may still be feeling the consequences of sexual trauma, no matter how long ago it was. Traumatic experiences can feel just as real today as they did when they happened. You may find that certain experiences in your life, perhaps when you are feeling trapped or powerless, are likely to stir up memories of being raped or abused

Working with one of our trained practitioners might be a good way of dealing with those memories. If you would like help with thinking about how Survive might help, or what other services might help you in North Yorkshire, please contact us. And remember, it is never too late to get help.

Coping with sexual trauma

There are some strategies you may be able to use to help you cope with difficulties in sleeping and controlling panic and/or sudden distress.

Our helpline is open Monday to Thursday, 10am – 12noon (excluding public holidays). You can call our specially trained Support Team confidentially and for free on 0808 145 1887.

The Survivors Trust Resources Website provides many resources for survivors and anyone who wants to learn more about the impact of sexual violence, or wants to use as a self-help toolkit as part of their recovery journey.

Topics included on this site are:

  • Relationships
  • Shame and Guilt
  • Stress
  • Sleep
  • Dissociation
  • Self-esteem
  • Intimacy
  • Wellbeing


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