What is Sexual Abuse?

“Perpetrator. How I hate that word. I’ve still been reading your blog regularly, tho not quite as enthusiastically as awhile ago. I have read the word “perpetrator” more times than I would have cared to. I am wondering, how exactly do you define “perpetrator”? And how do you define sexual abuse? How “minor” does it have to be before you would define it as abuse? Some explanations would be appreciated…”

I received the above note from one of my blog readers today and wrote back with a brief explanation and a promise to write more about it here.

The individual went on to, somewhat apologetically, acknowledge that the message may sound harsh. Harsh? Not to me. It’s truth. It’s honest. It’s refreshing. I appreciate that. And I recognize that not all my writing is for everyone all the time. Having said that, I’ve had the highest consistent visits on my blog in the last several weeks. Where it’s not working, or where readers have concerns or questions, I appreciate hearing from you.

The word perpetrator is a broad term commonly used for anyone who commits a wrongdoing, especially in sexually inappropriate offences. It covers everything from the person who exposes himself or herself, violating others visually, to the people who rape, molest or otherwise abuse others sexually.

I use it in story telling because it allows me to write about the offender without giving away name, gender or the details of the violation. (To share those details, by calling the offender a rapist, is something I rarely do. In The Travelling Missionary… Rapist I did this, because I am hoping people will recognize him and get help if they or a loved one were one of the many who were violated by him.)

I’m not a big fan of changing names, though I do it on occasion, and rather refer to the person as a perpetrator. For better or worse, I’ll probably keep using it.

Defining Sexual Abuse is also not without challenge. There are various types and ‘degrees’ of  violation, but any sexual exploitation, regardless how minor, or whether it involves touching, or not, is Sexual Abuse. Within that there are various definitions for different forms of abuse.

Molestation, for example, is typically used to describe unsolicited sexual contact with a woman, if it does not progress to rape, and also refers to all sexual contact with children. If children ‘consent’ they are still considered victims of molestation.

Sexual assault is a broad term used to define ‘knowingly causing another person to engage in an unwanted sexual act, by threat or by force.’ Sexual Assault, in legal terms, has for the most part replaced ‘rape’ and ‘sexual abuse’ or any form of sexual violation.

(In searching for answers as to when and why rape was redefined as sexual assault, I found Bill C-127, in 1983. The purpose was to include male and female victims, and make the law stricter and clearer by defining levels of assault. StatCan)

The person who exposes him/herself sexually in any way, is referred to as a perpetrator, and can be charged. (This is referred to as exhibitionism) The person to whom they exposed themselves is the victim.

Any sexual interaction with a minor is abuse, and is usually referred to as molestation or sexual assault. If it is two minors, it can be innocent exploring, or, more likely, the result of a victimized child introducing another child to what they have experienced, or are experiencing. These children are not perpetrators, though it can still have damaging or negative impact on one or both children. In a legal sense, adolescents and adults can be perpetrators of sexual abuse and adolescents are typically referred to as those between 11, or 12, and 19.

There are varying degrees of impact, and what some refer to as ‘minor’ abuse can have major psychological impact on the victim’s life. In any case, abuse is abuse, and victims need to be helped, while the offender needs to be held accountable and helped.

I’m not a big fan of assigning levels and degrees of abuse. If it happened, and it traumatized you, you need healing. If it impacted your behaviour, caused you to get involved in any unhealthy sexual behaviours, even in childhood, and left you feeling guilty or ashamed, then you need healing.

I’ve had women share things, reluctantly, worrying that they are being petty about something that happened in early childhood. It isn’t petty. If it felt wrong, and if it felt like it violated your right to be respected and protected, then deal with it on the level of abuse, regardless of the other person’s intent. To excuse it leaves you in bondage.

The best example I can think of is a young girl completely naked, or partially undressed, in her room, and someone marches in without knocking, to get something, to spank her, to yell at her or some other intrusive behaviour that has nothing to do with sexual intent. Even if the young girl is not touched, or even ‘looked at’ with sexual intent, she will likely feel violated. The sexual intent is not always there, for the violation to  happen.

The scenarios I mention have happened and have left women struggling.  I presume a boy could feel the same way, though I have not heard testimony to that fact, so I cannot speak to it.

These are some of the definitions of sexual abuse. If you have perpetrated in these crimes, there is hope, forgiveness and healing. You do not need to be defined by, or stay in bondage to what you have done, however, you do need to find help.

As always, whether you are a victim or perpetrator, if you need help finding someone to talk to in your area, email info ‘at’ faithgirlsunleashed ‘dot’ com. We will do our best to help, anywhere in Canada and USA.

© Trudy Metzger

Return to 1st post in Sexual Abuse Series