Common Types of Sexual Abuse

The clinical definition of sexual abuse continues to expand as our society recognizes a broader range of activities perpetrated by sexual offenders. A single episode of sexual abuse may fall into several categories.

Child Sexual Abuse:

The sexual abuse of children by adults or by older children or peers who dominate and control through sexual activity. Older boys who make girls undress and then fondle them, for example. It can be committed by strangers but most often is perpetrated by adults or older children in trusted caretaking roles.


The most common form of child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse of children by other family members, including mother or father, step-parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.


Sexual abuse involving sexual stimulation to body and genital areas, including penetration. It can happen at any age, by a perpetrator of any age.

Stranger Rape:

Violence, anger, and power expressed sexually in an attack on a victim. It may involve penetration of body openings (oral, anal, and vaginal) but does not have to.

Date or Acquaintance Rape:

Sexual abuse, not necessarily violent perpetrated by someone known to the victim, often a peer in a trusted social relationship.

Marital Rape:

Sexual abuse perpetrated by one spouse on the other or by a sexual partner in any long-term committed relationship.

Sexual Assault:

Physical attack to victims sexual body parts, often involving force or violence. This term can cover a wide range of activites and often describes the rape of boys and men.

Exhibitionism or Exposure:

Displaying the naked body or parts of the naked body in an effort to shock, intimidate, or sexually arouse a victim.


Invasion of a victim's privacy either secretively or openly with the intent of gaining sexual gratification.

Obscene Phone Calls:

Invasion of a victim's privacy with sexually suggestive messages over the telephone in an effort to shock, intimidate, or sexually arouse a victim.

Sadistic Sexual Abuse:

Sexual abuse in which the offender incites or tries to incite reactions of dread, horror, or pain in the victim as a means of increasing the offender's sexual arousal during the abuse. May involve use of physical restraint, quasi-religious rituals, multiple simultaneous perpetrators, use of animals, insertion of foreign objects, mutilation or torture.

Sexual Exploitation:

Objectification and use of victims, by means of sexual activity or photographic imagery, to gain money or sexual gratification.

Sexual Harrassment:

Use of gender, status, and power differences to intimidate or control a victim, or to require sexual involvement. May be expressed as flirting and sexual suggestiveness.

Gender Attack:

Exposure to actions that demean the sexual gender of a victim, often with sexual overtones, such as cross dressing a child or verbally denigrating a victim's gender.

Gay Bashing:

Verbal or physical attacks directed against a victim's perceived homosexual orientation.

Sexual Violence:

Acts of violence involving or harming sexual parts of the victim's body.

Note: Legal definitions of sexual abuse are much narrower and can't be relied on in determining if an experience was sexual abuse. laws protect victims from certain types of sexual abuse, such as spousal rape, sexual harassment, gender attack, gay bashing, and abuse perpetrated in indirect and subtle forms.

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