Sexual violence is any kind of sexual activity or physical contact that happens without the victim’s consent. This type of violence can take many forms, including child sexual abuse, sex crimes, rape and other types of sexual assault. Sexual violence is never a victim’s fault and is almost always a crime of coercion – using force or threats to cause someone else harm.
Survivors of sexual violence often suffer from a number of physical, emotional and social impacts. In addition to the immediate concerns like abrasions, a risk of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy, they may also face long-term problems such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. These issues can affect the survivor’s family, friends, work and school life.
One of the biggest problems survivors face is relearning how to trust. This can be difficult for anyone, but for a survivor who has experienced sexual violence, this is especially true. Survivors often feel that they can’t trust others, and this can impact their relationships and work. They may also struggle with feelings of anger, fear and guilt.
Another common problem is feeling powerless after a sexual assault. This can cause survivors to act out in harmful ways – such as self-harm, drug use and eating disorders. It can also lead to feelings of hopelessness and a lack of self-worth.
People who commit sexual violence often believe that they are not able to control their actions and that they have a right to use violence. These beliefs are rooted in a variety of factors, including how society perceives certain sexual behaviors, the way in which cultures see men’s and women’s roles, and individual beliefs about the sex of others. For example, men from more conservative cultures are more likely to view women’s nonsexual behaviors or platonic interests as sexual in nature and interpret these as a reason for violence against them.
Sexual assault can happen anywhere, anytime – on a bus, at school, in a restaurant, at the workplace and even during a party. Often, the perpetrator is someone known to the victim or their family. However, the perpetrator can also be a stranger. The perpetrator can be male or female, a man or woman of any age. Sexual violence can happen to anyone – regardless of race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Prevention of sexual violence is everyone’s responsibility. Support community efforts to prevent sexual assault by teaching consent and boundaries in schools, learning about legislation that supports victims and holds perpetrators accountable and letting your representatives know you support it. Donate to your local advocacy center and volunteer to help survivors. Challenge images of violence against women in advertising, pornography and professional wrestling.
Many sexual assaults are preventable. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is stay in charge of your own body – listen to your instincts and don’t be afraid to say no. Don’t put yourself in situations where you’re a target and don’t drink and/or take drugs. Stay in a group of people you trust, especially at parties. If you are being raped, try to stay calm and resist the assault if possible by saying “NO” and running away, or by acting aggressively.