Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is sexual assault?
  • What is child sexual abuse?
  • How do I know if I was sexually assaulted?
  • If it happened then, why do I have to deal with it now?
  • What are other resources in Milwaukee?
  • What are the laws about sexual abuse/assault?
  • What are the possible effects of sexual trauma? for adults, or children
  • Will I ever feel better?
  • What do you mean by "healing"?
  • I'm a male survivor of sexual abuse. Is there support available for me? (Is The Healing Center only for women?)
  • My abuser was a member of the clergy. Is there support available for me?
  • How do I contact The Healing Center?
  • Where is the The Healing Center?
  • I don't have insurance. Can I still receive services at The Healing Center?

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any act (verbal and/or physical) which breaks a person's trust and/or safety and is sexual in nature. The term "sexual violence" includes: rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, date and acquaintance rape, marital or partner rape, sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, and voyeurism.

Sexual assaults are acts of violence where sex is used as a weapon. Assaults are motivated primarily out of anger and/or a need to feel powerful by controlling, dominating, or humiliating the victim. Victims/survivors of sexual assaults are forced, coerced, and/or manipulated to participate in unwanted sexual activity. Victims/survivors do not cause their assaults and are not to blame. Offenders are responsible for their assaults.

What is child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse occurs when a child is exploited sexually by another person. It may take many forms: exposure of the genitals, obscene phone calls, obscene internet solicitation, voyeurism, use of pornography, fondling/touching, and oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse.

Children are most commonly sexually abused by someone they know and trust. When these acts occur within a family, the sexual abuse is called incest. There may be a single occurrence, but most likely the abuse will continue over a period of time, often for years. The abuse generally begins with acts such as fondling. The child is coerced and manipulated into remaining silent. Victims are terrified of revealing the abuse due to confusion, guilt, and fear of being blamed, punished, or not believed.

The vast majority of child perpetrators are teenage or adult males. Most are heterosexual men, many with children and a wife or girlfriend. Perpetrators come from all socio-economic levels, religions, ages, and ethnic backgrounds.

Victims/survivors of child sexual assault do not cause the abuse and are never to blame. The offender, not the victim, is responsible. If you know or suspect a child is being or has been sexually abused, you can call the police (911) or the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (414-220-SAFE), or you can call The Healing Center to figure out your options. There is also a 24-hour National Child Abuse Hotline for assistance and referral: 1-800-422-4453.

How do I know if I was sexually assaulted?

Some individuals who have been abused have clear memories of the incident(s); some don't have clear memories. Some people experience strong reactions of fear, nausea, panic, or despair when exposed to certain "triggers" that are associated with the abuse. Some examples of "triggers" include specific sounds, tastes, smells, words, actions, and facial expressions.

Often the first step in recovering from sexual abuse involves having awareness that some type of violation occurred. If you remember being sexually violated as a child, trust your memories and feelings, even if what you're remembering seems too awful to be true.

If it happened back then, why do I have to deal with it now?

There are many factors that work against children getting the help that they need at the time of the abuse:

Some children seek support, but are met with reactions such as disbelief, lack of concern, and even blame. Despite their efforts to seek help, the abuse may continue or even get worse.

Other children, for a number of understandable reasons, do not seek help at the time of the abuse. Abusers can often scare children by threatening to retaliate or by insinuating that the child will not be believed. The abuser may also confuse the child by behaving as if the abuse were "normal" or by implying that the abuse is the child's fault.

Sexual abuse of a child can never involve genuine mutual consent and, therefore, can never be the child's fault. Whether or not the abuse was appropriately handled at the time, its damaging effects may still be present years later.

What are other resources in Milwaukee?

[ Other resources ]

What are the laws about sexual abuse/assault?


What are the possible effects of sexual trauma?

For Children:

Children and adolescents who have been sexually abused can suffer a range of psychological and behavioral problems, from mild to severe, in both the short and long term. The initial or short-term effects of abuse usually occur within 2 years of the termination of the abuse. But the negative effects of child sexual abuse can affect the victim for many years and into adulthood.

Some children may show symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, including agitated behavior, frightening dreams, and repetitive play in which aspects of the abuse are expressed.

Children may also exhibit "regressive" behaviors (such as a return to thumb-sucking or bed-wetting), eating problems, and behavior or performance problems at school.

Children may show sexual behavior or seductiveness that is inappropriate for their age.

Some children, especially boys, tend to "act out" with behavior problems, such as cruelty to others and running away.

Other children "act in" by becoming depressed or by withdrawing from friends or family, experiencing feelings of guilt and shame.

Sometimes children may try to injure themselves or attempt suicide.

If child sexual abuse is not effectively treated, long-term symptoms may persist into adulthood.

These may include:

PTSD and/or anxiety

Depression and thoughts of suicide

Sexual anxiety and disorders

Poor body image and low self-esteem

Use of unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse, self-mutilation, or bingeing and purging, to help mask painful emotions related to the abuse

Revictimization is also a common phenomenon among people abused as children. Research has shown that child sexual abuse victims are more likely to be the victims of rape or to be involved in physically abusive relationships as adults.

Some children even report little or no psychological distress from the abuse, but these children may be either afraid to express their true emotions or may be denying their feelings as a coping mechanism. It is important for any child who has experienced sexual abuse to be evaluated by qualified medical and mental health providers who are skilled in working with sexual abuse survivors.

For Adults:

There are many ways that people experience the damaging effects of sexual abuse. Many of the reactions are similar to those experienced by survivors of other types of trauma. The following effects are common (Written Resources, The Courage to Heal):

Impact on Self-Esteem

Feeling that you are not a worthwhile person

Feeling bad, dirty, or ashamed of yourself

Feeling self-destructive or suicidal

Self-destructive coping mechanisms, such as alcoholism or drug abuse, eating disorders, other addictions, and/or self-injuring


Impact on Feelings

Having trouble knowing how to feel

Being afraid of your feelings

Worrying about going crazy

Depression, despair

Experiencing a very narrow range of feelings

Experiencing intrusive memories, images, nightmares or reliving past traumatic event

Increased anger, rage or irritability

Anxiety, including "panic attacks," situation-specific anxiety disorders, and insomnia


Impact on Your body

Experiencing times when you feel as though you've "left" your body

Difficulty in being aware of what your body is telling you

Intentionally hurting yourself or abusing your body

Hatred of your body and its functioning


Impact on Intimacy

Finding it difficult to trust others

Having trouble making a commitment

Experiencing panic when people get too close

Becoming involved with someone who is abusive or reminds you of your abuser


Impact on Sexuality

Difficulty "staying present" during sexual intimacy

Experiencing numbness or panic while having sex

Feeling exploited sexually or using your sexuality in a way that exploits others

Avoiding sex or pursuing sex you really don't want

Experiencing "flashbacks" during sex

Will I ever feel better?

The devastating effects of sexual abuse do not need to be permanent! You deserve to heal! You have already survived the worst part, the abuse itself. There are many wonderful people in the Milwaukee area who can assist you on your healing journey. Click here to visit our Resources for Survivors section.

What do you mean by "healing"?

Good question! Sexual abuse and sexual assault are traumatic. People experience the wounds that result in different ways, but it is inevitable to have reactions: emotional, mental, behavioral, physical and/or spiritual. Society often encourages survivors to "get over it," and you may wish to "forget about it" and "move on." However, the wounds caused by sexual victimization are like any other wound - without proper care, they fester and become infected.

Healing involves treating the wounds with care:

Build a support system of people you can talk to about the abuse. Click here to read about Allies. Examine the ways in which you have been hurt by speaking the truth of your pain to yourself and to your supportive allies. Allow yourself to experience and validate the feelings you have (anger, sadness, shame, confusion, etc.). Learn to nurture and be kind to yourself by working through the pain and sorting through the after-effects. Figure out what you need and want in your life. Honor yourself as a strong survivor!

It is difficult to address the pain of sexual abuse directly, to decide to Heal. So why do survivors do it? Some choose to heal because they know somewhere inside that they didn't deserve to be abused. Some choose to heal because they want to feel better, and they are tired of the unhealed wounds that are creating chaos in their lives. Some choose to heal because they feel the alternative is to die.

To survive sexual abuse and assault requires courage and resilience.

ALL survivors are courageous, resilient, and creatively resourceful in their own ways.

ALL have the right to fully heal and reclaim their lives.

I'm a male survivor of sexual abuse. Is there support available for me?

Yes! You are not alone, and there is support available for you. The Counseling Center of Milwaukee offers individual counseling and support groups for male survivors of sexual abuse. The Healing Center, the Sexual Assault Treatment Center, and the Latino Resource Center, all work with male survivors. The LGBT Community Center offers referral information for gay, bi, and trans survivors seeking services. Click here to access the resources page and find out how to reach any of these agencies.

My abuser was a member of the clergy. Is there support available for me?

Yes! You are not alone and support is available. Give us a call and we can talk to you about the services we offer: (414) 671-4325

How do I contact The Healing Center?

You can call The Healing Center at (414) 671.HEAL (4325).

Where is The Healing Center?

The Healing Center is located on the south side of Milwaukee at 130 W. Bruce St. on the 4th floor.

I don't have insurance. Can I still receive services at The Healing Center?

Yes! All services are provided at no cost to clients.

130 W. Bruce St., 4th Floor, Milwaukee, WI 53204 - (414) 671-HEAL (4325)