Prevalence of Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is any unwanted, aggressive or exploitative behavior related to sex and gender. It is estimated that one in three women and one in four men will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. It can occur in a variety of settings, including schools, workplaces, homes and public spaces. It can be perpetrated by people known to the victim, as in intimate partner sexual violence or acquaintance rape, or by strangers (stranger rape).

Sexual assaults and rapes can have devastating impacts on victims. These impacts can be physical, emotional, economic and social. Some of these impacts are immediate and others may take time to become apparent, such as problems with relationships or health issues like PTSD.

Perpetrators of sexual assault and rape often use force, or coercion. This can include physical pressure, manipulation, verbal threats and other intimidation tactics to force a person into non-consensual sex. In addition, the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence are someone that a victim knows, such as their intimate partner or an acquaintance.

The prevalence of sexual violence is difficult to gauge. The data that is available comes from police reports, clinical settings and surveys conducted by nongovernmental organizations. It can be compared to an iceberg, where the small visible tip represents cases reported by survivors and other data that is not as readily available.

Survivors of sexual assault or rape often don’t immediately share their experiences for various reasons, such as shame, embarrassment and guilt. They can also fear not being believed or having their traumatic experiences downplayed by friends and family members. It can also be hard for them to find resources and support, as they may not know where to turn or who to trust.

Many victims of sexual assault or rape develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD can include avoidance, flashbacks and changes in thoughts and emotions. Some victims develop suicidal thoughts or intentions and others have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships with their loved ones, especially if they have trouble finding trustworthy people to confide in.

Individual level — factors that increase the risk of becoming a perpetrator of sexual violence, such as alcohol and drug abuse, antisocial or impulsive behaviors and hostility towards women. There are also some cultural factors, such as a belief that boys will be boys or internalized misogynist attitudes.

Community level — factors that influence the risks at the community or group levels, such as laws and policies that promote violence against women and inequalities between males and females. There are also cultural factors, such as a culture of silence and an attitude that sexual assault is “just part of life”.

Individuals can play an important role in prevention by promoting safe relationships, behaviors and environments through their everyday actions. For example, by taking home a friend who has had too much to drink, explaining that rape jokes aren’t funny or getting security involved when someone is behaving inappropriately, people can help prevent sexual violence.