The Impact of Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is any kind of unwanted physical contact with a person’s body that takes place without their consent. This includes sexual assault, rape, stalking and voyeurism.

Survivors of sexual violence often experience physical and emotional harm as a result of their assault. This can include physical injuries, infertility, a sexually transmitted disease and trauma like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The impact of sexual assault can also be emotional, causing anxiety, depression or self-blame. It can impact the mental health of survivors’ partners, children, parents or friends. It can also have economic consequences, including financial and employment problems.

The causes of sexual violence are complex and vary across cultures, with many factors contributing to the problem. These can include culturally accepted stereotypes about gender, roles ascribed to men and women, and power hierarchies in families. Sexual violence can also be motivated by sexism, racism or a desire to dominate and humiliate a victim. The use of weapons, alcohol or drugs can also increase the severity and prevalence of sexual violence.

For victims of sexual assault, the effects can be life-long and have a major impact on their physical, social and emotional well being. The psychological impact of sexual violence is complex, and can include feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, depression, anger, fear and PTSD. These feelings can lead to isolation and a lack of trust in people. They can also affect a survivor’s relationships with their family, friends, colleagues and community.

It can be difficult for survivors to come forward and talk about their experiences, and this is a major cause of why sexual assaults are so under-reported. Survivors are also often blamed for the assault, or told they should have ‘asked for it’, and this can be extremely harmful. It is important to remember that a person who has experienced sexual violence was never ‘asking for it’ – they may have been asleep, unconscious, drugged or scared, and did not have the freedom or capacity to make a choice.

Survivors of sexual assault can feel misunderstood by their loved ones, and this can make it even harder for them to seek help. There are many services available to help victims of sexual assault, and these are worth taking advantage of.

Preventing sexual violence is a personal responsibility, and everyone has the power to change the culture of acceptance and normalization of this behaviour. This can be done by promoting safe behaviors, healthy relationships and thoughtful policies. It can also be done by supporting and advocating for survivors of sexual violence, being an upstander (supporting someone who is being harassed or assaulted) and supporting the local advocacy groups that work on prevention.

Lastly, individuals can help by donating to and advocating for organisations that support victims of sexual violence, and by attending large parties with a group of trusted friends so they are not alone. Bystanders can also be a positive influence, by speaking up when they hear sexist jokes or victim-blaming language and by helping their friends to find safe ways to leave if they are feeling unsafe.