How to Prevent Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is any act of sex-based abuse or assault that occurs without the express consent of the victim. The impact of sexual violence can be immediate, in terms of physical injuries, and may also extend to other areas like employment and relationships. It can be long-term, with survivors struggling to maintain a stable income, care for their children and rebuild their sense of self and belonging after the event.

The most common form of sexual violence is rape. Perpetrators often use their position of power or status to coerce a victim into acts of sexual violence. While people from all social categories can perpetrate sexual violence, people from oppressed communities are more likely to do so. This is due to the fact that they are more likely to be victims of oppressive systems and structures, such as those related to gender, race, religion or economic class.

Whether it is sexual assault, or any other form of violence, no one deserves to be subjected to it. Fortunately, it is possible to prevent sexual violence from happening. Prevention is everyone’s responsibility and includes promoting safe behaviors, healthy relationships and thoughtful policies. It also means believing survivors and supporting them by letting them know that what happened to them was not their fault.

Individual level – factors that increase the likelihood that someone will become a perpetrator, including: alcohol and/or drug use; attitudes and beliefs that support sexual violence; impulsiveness; preference for impersonal sex; and childhood history of sexual or domestic abuse or witnessing family violence.

Community level – settings in which social interactions occur, such as schools, neighborhoods and workplaces; and characteristics of these environments that encourage or inhibit sexual violence. Factors include: a lack of workplace policies on sexual harassment; the perception that sex crime is acceptable and will not be punished; and cultural norms and belief systems that promote and support gender inequality and social hierarchy.

Societal level – broad societal attitudes and beliefs that support or inhibit sexual violence. These include: gender inequality; religious or cultural belief systems that promote sexual violence; and racial and socioeconomic discrimination.

The best way to prevent sexual violence is to stay safe. This means avoiding walking alone, especially at night and using public transportation. Keep doors and windows locked, and make sure to check the identity of anyone who comes to your home. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings and to trust your gut instinct – if something feels off, it probably is. It’s also helpful to maintain a respectful distance from intimate partners and to make sure that everyone has their own personal space. In addition, being open and honest about one’s personal boundaries can be a good deterrent to sexual assault. This can be challenging for some, particularly survivors of sexual trauma, but it is a necessary step to safety. Lastly, bystanders can help prevent sexual violence and harassment by speaking up when they see disrespectful behavior, intervening if they think the person is in danger, and making it clear that no one deserves to be subjected to sexual violence or harassment.