Was This Sexual Abuse?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I can’t beleive I’m writing this. OK, when we were kids my cousin and I used to be really, really close, even though he was 5 years older than me. He taught me how to swim, and ride a bike, etc. When I was 11 my cousin (who was 16) and I played “house,” (you know, him the dad and me the mom), except we took it too far. I let him touch me, and I touched him too. Even though he didn’t force me to I think he took advantage of the situation because he knew I always did what he wanted because I loved him and I didn’t want him to stop paying attention to me. But then I’m not sure if it would still be defined as “abuse” later on, because I was 14 when I ended it, and by then I definetely knew how wrong it was. I think even at 11 I knew it was wrong. He didn’t ever force me, just bribed, so was it still sexual abuse? Or was it at first, and then it became consensual at some point when I knew more? And how unusual is this, and does it mean something’s wrong with me? Sometimes I think there’s something wrong with me when I think back on it. I know it’s bad, but I actually truly thought it was love, or some form of it, at the time. I really need to know if it was abuse or if I’m just abnormal for letting him do it. Either way, might explain the problems I have with boyfriends now. Thanks.

A: What you are describing is abuse. There was a power difference in your relationship and your cousin took advantage of it. He was older and knew what he was doing. He knew he could use bribes and your desire to please him to get you to do something he knew was wrong. At 11, you were just beginning to have any understanding about sex and boundaries. This situation would never be defined as consensual because you were never at the age of consent. Research indicates that sexual assaults of children under the age of 12 are most commonly committed by adolescents who are 14 years of age. Please be assured you are not abnormal. Your trust was violated by someone you looked up to and thought you loved.

Yes. It probably has something to do with current problems. Your introduction to sex and intimacy was shadowed by secrecy, bribes, and the sense that something was wrong. It would not at all be unusual to have some of these same feelings triggered as you try to get intimate with a boyfriend.

I suggest you seek out a mental health therapist to help you with this. You are not crazy. You are troubled. Most therapists know how to treat this kind of situation because many people have similar issues. With some support and practical advice, you can put the events of the past where they belong — in the past — so you can enjoy your present.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 May 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Was This Sexual Abuse?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/05/05/was-this-sexual-abuse/