Ending Sexual Violence

Sexual violence can take many forms and is experienced by people of all ages and backgrounds. While it can be committed by a stranger, eight out of 10 perpetrators of sexual violence are known to their victims. This includes intimate partners, friends, family members and acquaintances. Perpetrators can use physical, psychological and emotional force to coerce a victim into non-consensual sex, including threats, intimidation, manipulation and abuse of power. The motivations of perpetrators vary and can include sexual gratification, anger, power, sadism, psychopathy, and evolutionary pressures.

A person’s experience with sexual violence can have long-term impacts on their education, employment and financial security. For example, women who have experienced sexual violence are 7% less likely to be in full-time employment than those who have not (Townsend et al., 2022). This is due to the impact of sexual assault and other violence on a woman’s mental health, physical health and ability to work.

Women and men who have experienced sexual violence often feel shame, guilt, anxiety, fear, depression and low self-esteem after the event. These negative feelings can impact on the way they live their lives, how much they interact with others and how they engage in their community. They are also more likely to have a higher level of alcohol and drug consumption, and may be less willing to seek help and support from the community.

Often, sexual assaults and other acts of sexual violence are not reported to police or other authorities. This can be because a person feels they are not responsible for the act, or it may be because of stigma and discrimination against victims and the perpetrators of sexual violence.

There are many things that we can do to prevent sexual violence. These include challenging images of sexual violence in the media and not taking part in sexually violent behaviour; raising awareness of the prevalence of sexual assaults and other forms of violence against women; encouraging everyone to get help and talk about what they have experienced; and supporting organisations working to end sexual violence.

We need to recognise that no one deserves sexual violence, regardless of their age, gender, culture, religion, background or anything else. We need to change the cultural norms that condone sexual violence and support those who have been affected. We need to ensure that a strong and robust response to sexual violence is in place, including adequate funding for crisis centres, training for police and other services and support for survivors. We need to commit to a system of prevention, with clear legislation and processes, strict penalties for offenders and high priority given to investigating cases of sexual assault and other acts of sexual violence. This must include a commitment to support victims and their families and to provide medico-legal services.