It is important for sexual abuse survivors to have representation in media and have their stories told. However, writing a character who is or has been sexually abused can be difficult. Sexual abuse is a very sensitive issue, so you will want to make sure you get it right. Misrepresenting sexual abuse can cause harm to survivors by reinforcing false ideas about them and their experiences. Here are some important sensitivity tips in formulating a sexually abused character.

Don’t Trivialize It

When writing a sexually abused character, trivializing it is the last thing you want to do. Don’t just mention the character’s sexual abuse in passing to make the character seem “darker” or more “complex”. It is important to explore the ways this experience affected their life, development, and personality. It is also vital to avoid trivializing the character’s sexual abuse by implying they deserved it, were somehow at fault for their abuse, or that they secretly “wanted it”.

Make it “Fit”

Sexual abuse has long-term effects on a survivor’s personality and mental health. It’s important to reflect this reality in your writing. Survivors often have trouble setting boundaries and trusting people. It is also common for survivors to blame themselves for the abuse and minimize the severity of their abuse to both themselves and others. Common psychological effects of sexual abuse include insomnia, anxiety, paranoia, depression, flashbacks, disassociation, and eating disorders.

Although sexual abuse can happen to just about anyone, these characters are likely to demonstrate certain risk factors. These factors include being young, female, LGBT+, disabled, and using alcohol or drugs. Characters do not have to exhibit all or any of these risk factors, but they are something to consider when writing a character who has been sexually abused.

Don’t Eroticize the Abuse

If you plan to write a scene in which sexual abuse takes place, it is important to avoid eroticizing the event. Portraying sexual abuse in an erotic way, even if unintentional, can be damaging. In order to avoid doing this, do not go into pornographic detail about the sexual abuse. Giving a few details that allow readers to imply what is happening will suffice. Instead of focusing on the sexual acts being done, focus on the character’s thoughts and emotions during the abuse. This allows you to portray the pain and trauma of the character’s sexual abuse without the risk of eroticizing the abuse or dehumanizing the character.

With these tips, you should be able to write about this issue realistically and with sensitivity.