Causes and Effects of Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is a sex act completed or attempted against the victim’s will, or when a person is not able to give consent (physically, emotionally or psychologically). It may involve actual or threatened physical force, use of guns or other weapons, coercion, intimidation and pressure. It also includes touching of the genitals, anus or groin against a person’s will or when they are unable to consent. Sexual violence affects individuals, families and communities. It can cause trauma, disbelief and a loss of sense of safety and trust. It can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues for survivors. It can also impact self-esteem, body image and relationships. It can also have economic impacts in addition to the cost of medical, police and judicial services. It is estimated that each rape costs $5,100 in tangible losses and $81,400 in lost quality of life (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).

Sexual assaults and rape are most often committed by someone the victim knows, like a friend, family member or intimate partner. This type of violence is known as acquaintance rape or a non-consensual sexual assault. It is a violent display of power and often happens when there are inequalities such as money, age or experience. It can also happen when a person feels powerless and has few or no choices in a relationship, especially when they are drunk or on drugs.

It is also common for rape to occur in the context of war or conflict. It is often a weapon used to demoralize or punish the enemy, and it can be used in revenge for previous attacks. It may also be used to control women in a culture that has patriarchal gender roles and sex norms.

In armed conflict, sexual violence is usually part of a wider pattern of abuse and violations of human rights including war crimes. This is particularly true for rape, which is almost always a crime against humanity.

The ICRC addresses the causes and effects of sexual violence through its programs which include protection, assistance, awareness-raising and prevention. In countries where it works, these are complemented by community development and advocacy activities.

Individuals can take steps to help prevent sexual violence. One way is to practice safe sex and learn about healthy relationships and boundaries. Another way is to keep a home well-lit and to be vigilant when answering the door or using public transportation alone. Check the identification of service workers and sales people before allowing them into the house. Keep windows and doors locked, especially at night. If you think that a friend, family member or partner might be abusing them, encourage them to seek help in a judgement-free and compassionate space. This might include calling a hotline, talking to their doctor about reporting the abuse or obtaining PEP, a medication that can reduce the risk of getting HIV if exposed.

There is no excuse for sexual violence, even if the victim was drunk or on drugs. No one deserves to be abused.