Understanding Sexual Abuse

What is Sexual Abuse?

  • Sexual Abuse is a sexual activity that lacks your consent and exploits you. This could be someone pressuring you to do something you don't want to do, like watching porn or sending explicit photos. It could also be touching you without your permission or forcing you to have sex when you don’t want to.
  • Sometimes you can consent to some types of sex but not others. If they still force you to do it, that is still considered coercion and is not OK
  • One key difference between healthy sexual activity and harmful sexual behaviour is if power or manipulation is used over you, to get someone’s else’s needs met.
  •  There are many cases of strangers doing this, but more often it's the people you know and trust who do this. This is true both worldwide and in New Zealand.


However it's done, it all boils down to this: it is sexual abuse if it uses power over another, and lacks consent.


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Examples of Sexual Abuse

Here are some examples of Sexual Abuse:

  • Making someone watch porn when they don’t want to.
  • Sending sexual photos without consent of the receiver.
  • Coercing/ threatening someone into sending sexual photos.
  • Sharing sexual photos of someone publicly without their consent.
  • Making explicit sexual threats.
  • Peeping at someone else’s body or exposing a body inappropriately.
  • Sex with someone under age by someone older.
  • Sexual touch that is unwanted or uncomfortable.
  • Rape: acquaintance rape, stranger rape, drug rape, partner rape, date rape, gang rape and child rape.

Here are some helpful things to know:

  • The legal age of sexual consent is 16. Having sex with someone younger than this is considered sexual abuse.
  • The free app Send this Instead comes with a whole bunch of funny or forceful memes to deflect unwanted attention from text or social media. 
  • Here is a comic that describes how our society normalises some harassment, and how this culture impacts women.
  • It can be handy to know key definitions around sexual abuse. Check them out below.

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Key Definitions

  • Rape: When the penis of one person penetrates the genitals of another person without that person’s consent, or without a reasonable belief that the person has consented. 
  • Sexual violation: Means rape or unlawful sexual connection.
  • Unlawful sexual connection: Penetration by a penis or another part of the body or object, or oral sex without consent.
  • Sexual abuse: Any sexual contact or exposure to pornography that has not been consented to or is done to someone under 16 years old.

  • Incest: Sexual intercourse between parent and child, siblings, or grandparent and grandchild, though in general use the term refers to any sexual contact between people who are closely related. 
  • Indecent assault: Any touching of a sexual nature that has not been consented to.
  • Sexual harassment: Sexual words, or behaviour that is unwelcome or offensive and which is either repeated or of such a significant nature that it causes harm to a person.  

Common Reactions

There are also some really common reactions that can happen after experiencing sexual abuse, which can make you feel like you are going crazy. It can help to learn what these common reactions are. Remember, reactions will be different for every person, and there is no right or wrong way to react. Here’s all the info.

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Support for Parents & Family

If you have recently disclosed information about an unwanted sexual experience to your parents or a family member our free downloadable information sheet can help them understand what to do next and how you might be feeling. 


It is normal for many questions to be raised when you or someone you know has been through sexual abuse.
HELP has a list of Frequently Asked Questions you can find here.

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