How to Prevent Sexual Violence

Sexual violence can happen to anyone, at any time and is not a victim’s fault. The vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known and even trusted, like a friend, family member, acquaintance or partner. There are many factors that contribute to the sexual abuse of a person, including:

Perpetrators of sexual violence act for a variety of reasons, but they all share an interest in exploiting and taking advantage of another’s vulnerability. This can include a desire to feel powerful and controllable, an urge for stimulation and pleasure and/or the need to take revenge. They may also be motivated by an internalised sense of victim blaming. They might also be under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol which can reduce the ability to distinguish their actions from their thoughts, feelings and emotions, and can affect a person’s decision making skills and judgement.

Individual characteristics such as impulsivity and irresponsibility can also increase the risk of becoming a rapist. Personality traits such as egocentricity, low self-esteem, narcissism and a lack of empathy can also be linked to deviant sexual behaviours. Situational factors such as a person’s financial status, education level and location can be linked to their likelihood of engaging in sexual offending.

People can do their part to help stop sexual violence by taking the following steps:

Educate yourself about consent and boundaries and teach others. Challenge images of violence against women in advertising, pornography and professional wrestling. Support community efforts to prevent sexual violence by donating to advocacy groups, volunteering and promoting legislation that supports survivors and holds perpetrators accountable.

Recognize warning signs of a potential assault and learn to respond quickly, such as a change in the way a person carries themselves or acts around you. Talk openly about sexual assault with the people in your life and learn how to support those who have been affected by it.

The consequences of sexual violence extend far beyond physical injury and can have long-term impacts on a person’s mental health, educational achievements and employment opportunities. Research suggests that survivors of sexual violence are less likely to get full-time employment, and more likely to have a lower quality of life than their non-violent peers. This is partly because they are more likely to need to rely on welfare and other public assistance programs, but also due to the impact of their trauma on their ability to function.

There are a number of interventions that can be used to address the root causes of sexual assault, including community education and awareness, training for professionals such as police officers and social workers, and societal-level interventions such as hot spot mapping, windshield surveys and policy review. More research is needed into the complex nature of these factors and how they relate to each other, and this will require greater collaboration between researchers with different theoretical perspectives and less loyalty to particular research areas. A focus on gender relations within the culture and more research into offender motivation is also merited.