Was I molested?

Dear Alice, 

I really don't know what to call my situation. Some people say I was molested, others say I was sexually assaulted in the third degree, and others call it sexual misconduct. But when I was thirteen years old, I was touched by a fifteen-year-old boy on the bus for six months. I didn't want this or invite it. I would often fight and say no. He used to fondle my thighs and go into my pants. What is this called? Please e-mail me back. 


Dear K,

Finding a label for what happened to you may not be as important as sorting out your feelings about what significance those six months bear. It appears that these events were inappropriate and non-consensual at the very least. Ultimately, you are the one who can best define what these incidents mean to you. Sorting out your experiences can be an important part of the healing process. Finding a mental health professional you can talk to may help you sort through the healing process. The following resources are specifically aimed at helping people who have experienced such events:

If you are a friend of someone who has experienced sexual abuse, one of the most significant things that you can do is to show your support. Moreover, you may be experiencing complex feelings of your own. The above resources may be useful in both helping you sort out your own feelings, and for learning more about how to help a friend who was sexually abused. Here are some more tips on how to help a friend:

  • Listen to what they say, without blame or judgment. 
  • Believe them; a person has very little to gain by making up a story about sexual assault.
  • Do not tell them what to do; a person who has been sexually assaulted may feel powerless and taken advantage of. You can help your friend gain back her or his power by allowing her or him to make decisions on her or his own.
  • Give them information; it may be helpful to come prepared with a list of options.

No matter how much time has passed, it is completely normal for a survivor of sexual abuse to continue to feel a myriad of things, including confusion, regret, blame, or fear. One of the most important pieces of the puzzle, however, is the fact that a person can heal from such events and find hope and liberation over time. Through gentle strength and courage, survivors can proceed on the path to healing.

Last updated Feb 19, 2015
Originally published Dec 11, 1998