Understanding Trauma & Violence


My cousin, who was slightly older, pressured me into exposing myself when I was younger (around 8-12 years old). I don't remember him touching me, but I've blocked out many memories. For years, I convinced myself it was just a dream. Now that I am older, I'm facing what happened, but I'm unsure how to label my experience. Can I say I was sexually assaulted or harassed? I don't want to use a label that isn't accurate.


Thank you for sharing your experience. What you've been through is difficult, and reaching out to us takes a lot of courage. Thank you for trusting us with something so personal.

I want you to know that what you've described can certainly be a form of sexual abuse, specifically child-on-child sexual abuse. Your cousin's behavior of pressuring you to expose yourself was inappropriate and seems to be harmful to you, regardless of whether physical touching occurred. It's important to understand that sexual harassment and abuse do not need to involve actual touching to be valid or impactful.

One key factor in distinguishing abusive behavior from normal childhood exploration is the presence of distress or discomfort. The fact that you didn't want to participate and felt pressured indicates that this was not mutual, consensual exploration. Your feelings of discomfort and the lasting impact of these experiences further suggest that this was abusive behavior.

The process of labeling such experiences can be complex and deeply personal. You are the expert of your own experience, and your feelings and perceptions are valid regardless of how you choose to describe what happened to you. Some survivors find using specific labels empowering as it can validate their feelings, help them understand their experiences, and potentially access specific resources or support. Labels can also provide clarity for legal purposes if that ever becomes relevant. However, others may choose not to label their experiences due to the complexity of their situation, discomfort with certain terms, uncertainty due to fragmented memories, or as part of their personal healing process.

In terms of specific labels, what you've described could be accurately termed as sexual abuse, sexual coercion, or sexual harassment. The term "sexual assault" is often used when there's physical contact, but definitions can vary. "Sexual abuse" is a more general term that might be the most appropriate for your situation, but it's entirely up to you whether you want to use this or any other term.

It's completely okay if you're unsure about how to label your experience or if you prefer not to label it at all. Your healing journey is personal, and what matters most is finding ways to process your experiences and emotions that feel right for you. 

Also, it's common for survivors to block out or have fragmented memories of abuse as a coping mechanism. Your mind's way of dealing with it by telling yourself it was a dream is also a normal response to trauma. Many survivors use similar strategies to cope with difficult experiences. As you continue to process these experiences, consider speaking with a trauma-informed therapist who can provide personalized support and guidance. 

Remember, whether or not you choose to use a specific label, your experiences and feelings are valid. The pressure and coercion you experienced were real and distressing for you. Be patient and compassionate with yourself throughout this process and prioritize what you need to heal going forward. Thank you again for reaching out to us. You are not alone.

Safety Exit