Sexual Violence and Gender-Diverse Identity

Sexual violence is a form of interpersonal harm that violates individuals, communities and societies. It affects women, girls, and people of gender-diverse identities in all corners of the world. Sexual violence also impacts the way that we view and understand boundaries, trust, safety, and consent. Sexual violence is often under-reported, so available statistics do not reflect the true scope of the problem. This is due to barriers and cultural strengths that are unique to each country or community, such as the socially-constructed meanings of masculinity and femininity and differing beliefs about relationships between men and women.

It is important to remember that any time someone has sex against their will they have been sexually assaulted. In fact, some of the most common forms of sexual violence include rape, sexual harassment, unwanted sex, and unwanted touching. Sexual violence can be perpetrated by anyone of any gender, and it can occur in person, over the phone or through text messages and emails. It can be a single incident, or it may be part of an ongoing pattern of abuse.

Victims experience a range of emotions following sexual assault including calm, hysteria, sadness, anger, apathy and shock. Each survivor copes with the trauma in a unique way, and it is important that we do not make assumptions about how victims should react or what their reactions should look like.

Many survivors have difficulty trusting others and themselves after a sexual assault. Survivors may find themselves in situations where they feel betrayed or mistreated, even by close friends and family members. This can be especially hard when it is a survivor’s own partner or relative who commits the assault. Survivors are also at risk for feelings of shame and guilt.

Depending on their culture, some survivors have difficulty acknowledging the abuse and reporting it to authorities. They may believe that it is their fault or that they should not have been abused – this misperception is known as victim blaming and can be caused by factors such as the way a person dresses, drinks alcohol or any other socially-constructed beliefs around body image.

In patriarchal cultures, resistance from a woman victim may be perceived by her attacker as an insult to his manhood and can result in more serious injuries. Similarly, a victim in a family-centric culture might not report sexual assault to her husband or other close family members. In both cases, it is important to support survivors and recognise that sexual violence can happen to any of us. The impact on society is profound, but it is crucial that we do all we can to stop it. We need to end the stigma, prejudice and discrimination against those who have experienced sexual violence. It is not only a human rights issue but it can also be considered as a social justice and economic issue, as well as an issue of public health.