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Home / Articles / Identifying Abuse / When Abusers Use Sexual Abuse to Control

When Abusers Use Sexual Abuse to Control

It can take on many forms beyond rape

  • By
  • Jun 06, 2016
When Abusers Use Sexual Abuse to Control

Physical abuse can leave the telltale signs of black eyes, broken bones and bruises. Psychological abuse can result in a bevy of invisible scars that have survivors doubting their own instincts and which lower their self-esteem and make them untrusting of others for years to come.

Sexual abuse can combine the worst of both of those worlds. During sexual abuse, abusers coerce or force their partner to perform sexual acts as part of an abuser’s overall desire to assert power and control. Long-term symptoms can include physical ailments, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and unmitigated fear of continued abuse.

Abuse Epidemic

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men experience some form of sexual violence, other than rape, at some point in their lives.

It also shows that 1 in 10, or 11.1 million women in the U.S., have been raped by an intimate partner in their lifetime. One in 71 men have been raped, and more than half say they were raped by an intimate partner.

Most female victims of completed rape, nearly 80 percent, were raped before the age of 25, while more than a quarter of male victims experienced their first rape when they were age 10 or younger.

Four Different Types

Sexual abuse can be categorized in four different ways:

  • A complete sexual act, or sexual intercourse.
  • An incomplete sexual act, where sex is attempted but is unsuccessful.
  • Abusive sexual contact, which involves touching or hurting sexual or other private areas.
  • Sexual abuse without contact. This is intentional and unwanted exposure to obnoxious sights (such as someone exposing themselves to a victim or forcing a victim to watch pornography), or verbal sexual assaults.

Sexual abuse can also take the form of an abuser forbidding their partner from using birth control, often with the intent to conceive, another form of power and control. Or, an abuser may force or pressured a survivor to end a pregnancy. These tactics are sometimes referred to as reproductive abuse or reproductive coercion.

Other tactics of sexual abusers can include preventing their partner from protecting themselves against STDs, refusing to use condoms, coercing their partner to perform sex acts in front of children, taking advantage of their partner sexually when their partner is on drugs, inebriated, sleeping or unconscious.

When Sexual Abuse and DV Overlap

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According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 40 and 45 percent of women with abusive partners will be sexually assaulted by their abuser during the course of their relationship. Additionally, more than half of all women raped by intimate partners were sexually assaulted more than once by that same partner.

Of course, sexual abuse doesn’t only occur in opposite-gender relationships. According to 2010 findings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of domestic violence among gay and heterosexual individuals are nearly identical, and even a higher number of lesbians will be victims of domestic violence.

If you’re a survivor of sexual abuse, reach out to a trained domestic violence advocate today to learn about safety planning, legal options and how to start the healing process. Find an advocate near you at

For more information on marital rape, read, “Can He Rape Me if We’re Married?