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What is Covert Sexual Abuse?

What Is Covert Sexual Abuse?

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There are many obvious types of sexual abuse, but not many people have heard of the term “covert sexual abuse.” When people think of sexual trauma, they often imagine unwanted physical sexual contact, and other forms of physical contact, such as groping. But what happens if someone feels as though they have endured sex abuse, even if there is no history of it? This can arise from covert abuse, which is often non-contact, but no less insidious.

At Reich & Binstock, our sexual abuse attorneys are nationally-recognized for their advocacy for victims of sexual violence. We fully understand the trauma, pain, and emotional wounds that come from covert or overt sexual abuse. That’s why we dedicate ourselves to helping these victims seek compensation for the abuse they endured. If you or your children were victims of covert sex abuse, contact our office today to schedule your free consultation. Call us at 713-622-7271 or fill out our online intake form. 

Forms of Sexual Abuse

There are five main forms of sexual abuse: verbal sexual abuse, covert sexual abuse, visual sexual abuse, physical sexual abuse, and ritualistic sexual abuse. Understanding the specifics of each is crucial when it comes to understanding how covert abuse is different.

Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse can involve both spoken and written words that are used to imply or overtly express sexual content. Many people experience this form of abuse over the Internet, in certain social settings, or even at work. It is common for crude jokes of a sexual nature to receive a pass in the name of comedy, but even comedy can cross a line. Some specific examples of verbal abuse include sexually-charged jokes, descriptions of sexual content, comments about one’s body, sexual text messages, and even phone calls.

Covert Abuse

Some people endure covert abuse without even knowing it. You can be a victim of this form of abuse if someone photographs you, stalks you on social media, follows you, or even observes you with the intention of gaining sexual satisfaction without your knowledge. One of the more common forms of covert abuse is also referred to as covert incest or emotional incest. It is unfortunately common for people to suffer covert abuse from family members.

Visual Abuse

It is no secret that much of the media that people consume is full of sexually explicit images and language. If someone shows another person unwanted sexual content or images, this is a form of visual abuse. Other forms of visual abuse include being nude or dressing inappropriately in front of someone, sending sexual images to someone, or performing sexual acts in front of someone, all without their consent.

Physical Abuse

Physical sexual activity is what most people envision when it comes to sexual abuse. However, it is only one of the many forms of sexual abuse. Examples of physical sex abuse include unwanted touching, kissing, tickling, any form of sexual intercourse, and other forms of non-consensual touching. 

Ritualistic Abuse

Ritualistic sexual abuse can occur in tandem with some form of spiritual or religious ritual. Oftentimes, perpetrators use religion and spirituality to justify their actions to victims. Examples of ritualistic abuse include child marriage, citing religious or spiritual chants during other abusive acts, and much more. 

Covert vs Overt Sexual Abuse

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Overt sexual trauma and covert sexual trauma sound similar, but they have very important differences. In order to qualify as overt abuse, the perpetrator must make physical contact with the victim without their consent for their own sexual gratification. Abusers often hold power over their victims. An adult family member may manipulate a child into staying silent about abuse by telling them the abuse is their fault. An abusive partner may use guilt or physical restraint to force their partner or spouse into unwanted sexual contact.

Covert abuse is very different, and it can happen in many different ways. Without the help of an experienced sexual abuse lawyer, it can be difficult to prove that you experienced covert sexual abuse. Additionally, not all abusers even have the intention of causing harm to the victim, so they may not be aware of the consequences of their actions. 

One of the key ways we can identify covert sexual abuse is by examining how the abuse has affected your self-worth and mental health. Perhaps the covert abuse leads to inappropriate codependency, unhealthy patterns between the victim and the abuser, mental health problems, sex addiction, or even personality disorders. We can help abuse victims gather evidence to support their claims and build strong cases against their abusers.

Covert Sexual Abuse: What Is It?

As we stated previously, covert sexual abuse is often called covert incest or emotional incest. It is unlike overt incest in that it doesn’t involve physical contact between the victim and the abuser. Instead, it is the indirect sexual abuse or use of a child, romantic partner, or another family member by a parent, step-parent, or long-term caregiver. The abuse is non-contact, but it is implied through words and actions.

In cases of emotional incest, a parent may use young children or adult children as a form of emotional support, emotional fulfillment, emotional intimacy, or as a sort of surrogate spouse. The child feels forced to support their parent or parents and fulfill their emotional needs. In some cases, neither the abuser nor the victim may realize that this type of relationship is unhealthy.

Why Is Covert Sexual Abuse So Complicated?

Covert abuse is very complicated, especially when it comes to filing claims for damages that you suffered as a result. Additionally, survivors and victims of covert incest often feel conflicted about their experiences. They may feel as though their experiences are not as serious as those who suffer overt abuse. However, covert incest victims often show the same symptoms as victims of overt incest. Survivors often feel the effects of the trauma, but they are hesitant or unable to speak up about their experiences.

Covert Sexual Abuse Examples

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There are many examples of covert incest, as victims experience it in many different ways depending on their relationship with the abuser. Many victims feel that they receive special treatment while the relationship feels inappropriate or creepy at the same time. Below, we list some example scenarios of emotional incest.

  • A mother or father comments on their child’s physical development in an inappropriate way. They may talk about their body and how attractive they are, which would in turn make the child uncomfortable.
  • Parents may talk with their child about their own romantic relationships and physical relationships inappropriately. They may complain that their physical needs are not being met by their current spouse or romantic partners.
  • Emotional incest can also occur when a parent or caregiver does not give their child any privacy. They may follow them wherever they go, stand outside doors and listen to them, or constantly check their child’s social media profiles.

What Is Emotional Incest?

Emotional incest is an abusive relationship between two or more family members, often between a parent and a child. The adult uses the child for emotional fulfillment that they are not receiving in other areas of their life. While no direct sexual contact occurs, these relationships often have a sexual undertone and lead to an incestuous feeling for the child. Some examples include invasions of privacy, having inappropriate conversations about their adult relationships, and being too interested in a child’s physical development or appearance.

What Are the Signs of Covert Sexual Abuse?

The signs of covert sexual abuse and emotional incest are often very subtle. It is possible for neither the victim nor the abuser to understand that the relationship is inappropriate. In many cases, however, children and adults can feel trapped in the relationship and used by their abuser. This is also common in cases of overt abuse.

At the same time, the child’s own needs are often ignored or neglected in order to prioritize the needs of the abuser. Because of this, many victims of emotional incest syndrome do not develop an understanding of healthy relationships. 

What Is the Impact of Covert Sexual Trauma?

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The impact of covert incest can span generations in the form of intergenerational trauma. Survivors may experience any of the following consequences as a result of emotional incest.

  • Self-esteem issues
  • Engaging in inappropriate relationships with their own children
  • Problems with their sex life
  • Tendencies of self-harm
  • Lack of self-care 
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Anger, shame, guilt, and embarrassment
  • Emotional and mental health issues

The impact of any form of sexual abuse can be massive for survivors. After being silently seduced and abused for years, many victims seek professional help from a therapist. If you have suffered negative aftereffects from covert sexual abuse, you deserve compensation for what you have endured. 

Contact Our Nationally-Recognized Sexual Abuse Lawyers

At Reich & Binstock, we understand that civil sexual abuse cases require a delicate approach. We also understand that any form of abuse can affect anyone at any time. Both adults and children have suffered from the effects of covert abuse, and we are prepared to help victims recover the compensation they deserve. If you or someone you love has endured covert sexual abuse from a family member or caregiver, you may be entitled to compensation. To schedule a free consultation with our compassionate attorneys, please call our office at 713-622-7271 today.

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