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Sexual Abuse

What is rape?

If a man forces you to have penetrative sex, or has sex with you without your consent or agreement, that’s rape. Rape includes penetration with his penis of the vagina, anus or mouth without consent.

Whatever the circumstances, nobody has the right to force you to have sex or have sex with you without your consent. If this happens to you, it’s important to remember it’s not your fault.

Both men and women can be raped but only men can commit rape. If someone (male or female) sexually assaults you by penetrating you with another part of their body or another object, this is classed as ‘assault by penetration’ but will be treated similarly to rape if taken to court.

What is sexual assault?

If someone intentionally grabs or touches you in a sexual way that you don’t like, or you’re forced to kiss someone or do something else sexual against your will, that’s sexual assault.

This includes sexual touching of any part of someone’s body, and it makes no difference whether you’re wearing clothes or not. Anyone can be sexually assaulted and both men and women can commit sexual assault.

What is consent?

Consent can never be assumed, even in a relationship or marriage. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing at the time, or how you were behaving — sex without your consent is rape.

You may not be able to give your consent if you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, didn’t understand what was happening or were asleep. If you don’t have the capacity to give your consent, it cannot be assumed.

You’re allowed to change your mind — if at first you wanted to have sex but then decided against it, that’s ok and no-one has the right to force you to continue. If they don’t stop, then what they are doing is sexual assault or rape.

The age of consent in the UK is 16 and a child under the age of 13 cannot legally consent to any sexual activity.

Get help now

If you need to speak to someone, Victim Support are available every day, night and day. Find out the different ways you can get confidential and free support now by clicking on the link below.

Victim Support

Sextortion (webcam blackmail)

Many people use webcams for flirting and cybersex – but sometimes people you meet online aren’t who they say they are.

Criminals might befriend victims online by using a fake identity and then persuade them to perform sexual acts in front of their webcam, often by using an attractive woman to entice the victim to participate. These women may have been coerced into these actions using financial incentives or threats.

These webcam videos are recorded by the criminals who then threaten to share the images with the victims’ friends and family. This can make the victims feel extremely ashamed and embarrassed and, tragically, here in the UK at least four young men have taken their own lives after being targeted in this way.

Both men and women can be victims of this crime, either by being blackmailed or by being coerced into carrying out sexual acts.

The best way to stop yourself from becoming a victim is to be very careful about who you befriend with online, especially if you’re considering sharing anything intimate with them.

Has this happened to you?

• Happening now? Call the police on 999

• If this has happened recently, call the police on 101

• Do not pay any money

• Stop communicating with the person immediately

• Report to your internet service provider

• Screengrab and write down as much information as possible

• If you’re under 18, report to CEOP

We have evidence that organised crime groups – mostly based overseas ­- are behind this crime. For them it’s a low risk way to make money and they can reach many victims easily online. Victims are often worried about reporting these offences to the police because they are embarrassed.

What to do if you’re a victim of sextortion

  1. If someone threatens to share explicit images of you unless you pay them money: Don’t panic. Contact your local police and internet service provider immedaitely. The police will take your case seriously, will deal with it in confidence and will not judge you for being in this situation.

2.  Don’t communicate further with the criminals. Take screen shots of all your communication. Suspend your Facebook account (but don’t delete it) and use the online reporting process to report the matter to Skype, YouTube etc. to have any video blocked and to set up an alert in case the video resurfaces. Deactivating the Facebook account temporarily rather than shutting it down will mean the data are preserved and will help police to collect evidence. The account can also be reactivated at any time so your online memories are not lost forever. Also, keep an eye on all the accounts which you might have linked in case the criminals try to contact you via one of those.

3.  Don’t pay. Many victims who have paid have continued to get more demands for higher amounts of money. In some cases, even when the demands have been met the offenders will still go on to post the explicit videos. If you have already paid, check to see if the money has been collected. If it has, and if you are able, then make a note of where it was collected from. If it hasn’t, then you can cancel the payment – and the sooner you do that the better.

4.  Preserve evidence. Make a note of all details provided by the offenders, for example; the Skype name (particularly the Skype ID), the Facebook URL; the Western Union or MoneyGram Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN); any photos/videos that were sent, etc. Be aware that the scammer’s Skype name is different to their Skype ID, and it’s the ID details that police will need. To get that, right click on their profile, select ‘View Profile’ and then look for the name shown in blue rather than the one above it in black. It’ll be next to the word ’Skype’ and will have no spaces in it. DO NOT DELETE ANY CORRESPONDENCE.

Remember that you’re the victim of organised criminals – you’re not alone and confidential support is available. You can get through this.

Further help and support

If this has happened to you and you’re under 18 please talk to an adult that you trust. It may feel like there is no way out, but there are professionals who can help you. You can also get help from:

•PAPYRUS provides confidential advice and support and works to prevent young suicide in the UK.

•Samaritans to talk any time you like in your own way and off the record

•Get Safe Online

•Revenge Porn Helpline

•Skype advice on protecting yourself from blackmail


Improving awareness of sexual exploitation among adults

Rosie McNamara explores the topic of sexual exploitation by looking through the definitions, identified risk factors and effects. She tries to understand why people still fail to mention the abuse they have suffered and what can be done to raise awareness.

Recent media coverage of high profile cases may signal a key shift in societal attitudes towards the sexual exploitation of adults, but it has also exposed a lack of clarity about society’s understanding of the issue; there is some confusion around the definitions of harassment, exploitation and consent as shown in recent reports. Sexual exploitation of adults is not new, but of late there seems to be a greater drive to discuss and understand it, so it seems timely to outline the definition of the sexual exploitation of adults and explore what it means in the context of practice.

In the recently published Brief Guide to sexua­l exploitation, it is defined as a form of sexual abuse. Sexual exploitation has occurred if sex takes place and:

  • it is in exchange for basic necessities, such as food, shelter or protection;
  • it is in exchange for something that is needed or wanted;
  • an individual has felt frightened of the consequences if they refuse (coercion);
  • the person who is exploiting stands to gain financially or socially.

It is important to remember that there are a number of scenarios that fall under this definition and sometimes sexual exploitation can be hard to identify. Both men and women can be sexually exploited. It can take place in a domestic, commercial (workplace) or public settings. Crucially, the individual that is, or has been, subject to sexual exploitation may not realise it, which makes it all the more important that practitioners are able to offer clear concise explanations and advice.

It is also worth being mindful of identified factors that increase the risk of sexual exploitation in adulthood including:

  • homelessness
  • use of drugs or alcohol
  • lack of mental capacity to consent to sexual activity
  • human trafficking
  • sexual abuse during childhood.

However, whilst research has highlighted certain risk factors in the sexual exploitation of adults, it is not possible or advisable to make an exhaustive list. Remaining objective and looking at every situation afresh will hopefully help to identify those perpetrators who have felt able to abuse ‘in plain sight’ on the assumption that they are less associated with risk than others.

When providing support, it is important to remember that those who exploit are always misusing their power (whether financial, physical or psychological) to abuse. This can have a profound long-term effect on the individual subjected to abuse. An individual who has been sexually exploited as an adult or in childhood is more likely to experience poor mental health. Compassion, sensitivity and patience are essential attributes for practitioners working with these individuals, not least because the perceived fear of a perpetrator’s power can take far longer to dissipate than the risk of physical harm.

There could be many reasons why an individual does not disclose that they have been sexually exploited and it may not be the primary reason that a practitioner is working with an individual. However, practitioners should be prepared to respond effectively should they become aware of the issue during the course of their casework. As well as addressing any immediate safeguarding concerns, they may need to outline what help and support is available from services. It is also useful to be aware of any local specialised therapeutic services available.

Lack of awareness and misconceptions around the sexual exploitation of adults can contribute to ongoing trauma for those affected by it; but the right information, advice and support has the potential to be the first step towards safety, healing and prevention.