Sexual Abuse & Exploitation

What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is any contact or non-contact sexual activity that happens without consent or understanding, or with forced consent.
Sexual abuse includes:

  • Rape, attempted rape or sexual assault
  • Date rape
  • Sexual photography or forced use of pornography or witnessing of sexual acts
  • Involvement in pornography without consent
  • Inappropriate touching
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sharing intimate images without consent – known as Revenge Porn (when a previously taken video or photograph, which was taken with or without consent, is shared online)
  • Indecent exposure, also known as flashing – when someone shows their genitals in order to scare or upset another person
  • Any sexual activity that the person lacks the capacity to consent to

Any sexual act or contact that makes someone feel uncomfortable, afraid, or intimidated could fall in the category of sexual abuse. The person being exploited may believe their abuser is their friend, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Spotting the Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Unexpected or unexplained changes in behaviour
  • Bruising or injury particularly to the thighs, buttocks, upper arms or marks on their neck
  • Sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections (UTI)
  • Self-harming
  • Poor concentration, withdrawal, sleep disturbance
  • Excessive fear/apprehension of, or withdrawal from relationships
  • Fear of receiving help with personal care
  • Reluctance to be alone with a particular person
  • Pregnancy in a woman who is unable to consent to sexual intercourse
  • Bleeding, pain or itching in the genital area

What is Sexual Exploitation?

Sexual exploitation is the sexual abuse of an adult in exchange for attention, affection, food, drugs, shelter, protection, other basic necessities and/or money, and could be part of a seemingly consensual relationship. It involves someone taking advantage of an adult, sexually, for their own benefit through threats, bribes, and violence. There can also be links to grooming.

Adults can be sexually exploited in many ways. Examples include:

  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Being tricked or manipulated into having sex or performing a sexual act
  • Being trafficked into, out of, or around the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation (i.e. prostitution)
  • Being forced to take part in or watch pornography
  • Being victim to revenge porn (when a previously taken video or photograph, which was taken with or without consent, is shared online)

Spotting the signs of Sexual Exploitation

  • Evidence or suspicions of sexual assault
  • Self-harm or significant changes in emotional wellbeing
  • Developing inappropriate or unusual relationships or associations, including relationships with controlling or significantly older people
  • Displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour, language or dress
  • Being isolated from family, friends and social networks
  • Unexplained absences, including persistently being late or going missing
  • Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes and mobile phones
  • Using more than one phone, especially if both are used to communicate with different people (for example, if one phone is used exclusively to communicate with a specific group of ‘friends’)
  • Receiving an excessive amount of texts or phone calls – these may be from multiple callers, some of whom may be unknown
  • Their passport or identity documents have been taken away
  • They have been subject to a forced marriage


There are specialist organisations across Tees who support people who have experienced sexual abuse and sexual exploitation.

The Teesside SARC offers comprehensive support and guidance to people who have recently or historically experienced sexual abuse. They have trained specialist staff who can offer medical assessment/treatment, a forensic examination, and the opportunity of aftercare referrals for support services if required and if appropriate.

ARCH Teesside is a specialist sexual violence service offering free and confidential support, help and advocacy to people in the Teesside area who have experienced rape and sexual abuse, at any point in their lives.

A Way Out are a specialist service supporting women and young people who have experienced sexual abuse and sexual exploitation.

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Links to Other Organisations