One night I woke up to him penetrating me.


Did you know this?

As many as 16.6% of young people in Flanders experience sexually transgressive behaviour before the age of 18. Women are affected more than men. In 85.8% of cases the perpetrator is someone known to the victim, such as the partner, the ex-partner, an acquaintance, a colleague, a fellow student, a friend, a family member or a housemate. All forms of sexually transgressive behaviour are illegal and can be prosecuted. However, more than 90% of all victims of sexual abuse do not report the incident.

Sexually transgressive behaviour or abuse

Sexually transgressive behaviour or abuse occurs when one or more of the six characteristics of healthy sexual behaviour are violated:

  • Mutual consent: all parties involved agree and feel good about the situation.
  • Equality: all parties involved are equal in terms of age, intelligence, power and maturity.
  • Voluntariness: you do something because you want to, not (only) to make the other person happy or because you are afraid of the consequences.
  • Respect: the behaviour causes no physical, emotional or psychological harm to one of the parties.
  • Appropriate to the context: the behaviour takes account of the setting and does not disturb or shock anyone.
  • Appropriate to the level of development or functioning of the parties involved: the behaviour is considered acceptable for the stage of development. This criterion only applies to children and young people.

Sexsual abuse

If one of the first three criteria of healthy sexual behaviour - consent, equality, voluntariness - is violated, we speak of sexual abuse. It occurs when someone forces you into sexual contact with violence, threats, blackmail or manipulation. Dependence and power play a major role in this.

Spiking, or the secretly administering of alcohol or drugs in a drink, is increasingly associated with sexual abuse. Because you have almost no inhibitions due to the drugs - or sometimes lose consciousness - the spiker takes advantage of your situation.

Types of sexual abuse

There are different types of sexual abuse. They are all illegal and punishable.

  • Sexual harassment: you are approached in a sexual way when you did not want that to happen. You might be addressed in an inappropriate manner, be sent messages or pictures of intimate body parts or be forced by someone to do so.
  • Sexual assault without penetration: someone kisses you or touches your intimate body parts against your will or forces you to do so.
  • Sexual assault with penetration or (attempted) rape: you are penetrated against your will or forced to do so. This includes all forms of penetration, for example with the penis, tongue, fingers or an object in different body openings such as the mouth, vagina or anus.

Severe consequences

The consequences of sexually transgressive behaviour can be serious. About half of the adults who have been victims of sexual abuse report experiencing consequences. These include psychological issues, sexual problems, relationship or attachment problems and reduced confidence and self-respect.

A few examples:

  • Signs of anxiety: fear of being touched, fear of a certain person, bedwetting again or thumb-sucking in children
  • General signs of behavioural issues: sudden changes in behaviour such as sleeping or eating problems, difficulty concentrating and irritability
  • Signs of sexual issues: not daring or wanting to undress, having an aversion to sex or, on the contrary, an excessive interest in sex, seeking relationships in which the former abusive situations are repeated
  • Physical signs of distress: swelling or injury of the genitals, STDs, unplanned pregnancy

Many victims show signs of post-traumatic stress. They relive the violence with all the associated feelings of fear and helplessness. When a victim struggles with post-traumatic stress, they cannot process what happened to them.

Why it is important to set boundaries

Saying “no” may be difficult, but it pays off. The mutual setting of boundaries ensures that:

  • the other person learns to respect you, even if your opinion differs from theirs.
  • you get the best result: what you want and what makes you feel good.
  • the other person gets to know you better; it improves the quality of your interaction or relationship.
  • you avoid crossing your own boundaries and afterwards you have no regrets or bad feelings.

Bear in mind that saying “no” becomes more difficult as time goes by. The other person may already have other expectations, which you then have to go against. But remember, you do not owe anyone anything and the other way around. It is important that all parties agree on the way forward.

Talking about it was particularly difficult, as was enjoying the little things again.


The importance of support and understanding

Many victims first try to recover from sexual abuse by themselves. It may take a long time before they talk to someone and get help. However, support, understanding and guidance are so important in coming to terms with the experiences of abuse.

Talk about it and seek help

The first step is to make sure you are safe and you can talk to someone about it: a friend, a family member, a counsellor... This is not easy. But it is so important that you find someone you trust and talk about it when you are ready.

A possible second step is to report the incident to the police. If the incident involved physical contact you can go to the police, the hospital or your GP (as soon as possible after the event) to collect evidence of the incident and the perpetrator.

Few victims take the step of seeking help. However, thanks to the support of those around you and professional help, you can rebuild a positive self-image and overcome your feelings of insecurity.

As a victim, you can contact the following people and contact points:

  • A confidant: this is someone you know well and can trust, for example a friend, family member, neighbour or colleague. Colleges and universities also have a confidential advisor for sexually transgressive behaviour.
  • Helpline 1712: you can chat or call this line - anonymously if you wish - for a conversation or a referral for further assistance.
  • CAW or CGG: Centrum Algemeen Welzijnswerk and Centrum voor Geestelijke Gezondheidszorg both offer victim support services.
  • The Sexual Assault Care Centre offers immediate help after sexual assault or rape as well as for past sexual assault incidents.
  • Prevention advisor: in case of sexually transgressive behaviour at work, you can contact the confidential advisor or a prevention advisor.
  • Fellow victims: get in touch with people who have experienced the same thing and want to share their feelings.

What if you witness sexually transgressive behaviour?

It can make a world of difference to the person involved if you, as a witness, react.

You can do this by:

  • being alert and speaking to those involved. Ask if everything is OK but avoid arguing.
  • involving other bystanders or calling the emergency services.
  • providing a distraction. For example, stand nearby, ask where the toilet is, drop something, etc.
  • if possible, removing the victim from the situation.
  • not putting yourself in danger. If the above tips are not possible, stay nearby so you can be of assistance afterwards.

​​​​​​Keen to learn, read or hear more about this topic?


    • FlirterTwister - to what extent do you consider sexual behaviour OK? (Dutch)
    • Do you have doubts about your own behaviour? Check via this test.
    • Helpline 1712 - for questions concerning any form of violence or abuse.
    • Nu praat ik erover - chat box for minors and adults who have questions about or are victims of abuse, neglect or sexual violence (Dutch)

    Ted Talks