The Impact of Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is any act that violates a person’s dignity and respect for their human rights. It can be anything from unwanted touching to rape, sexual assault or other sexual abuse. It can also include a range of physical and emotional impacts including the risk of sexually transmitted infections and other health problems, emotional distress and psychological trauma.

People from all walks of life can be victims of sexual violence. The impact of sexual harm is felt by men, women, children and people who identify as non-binary. It can be perpetrated by a stranger, family member or someone they know. It can happen at school, work or in their community. Sexual violence can also be committed by people who are in positions of power or privilege.

Many survivors of sexual assault have difficulty talking about their experience, but there are ways to help them. You can support them by listening, validating and avoiding asking “why” questions that imply blame. You can also encourage them to seek help, either by calling a hotline or seeing their doctor.

The severity and frequency of sexual violence is underestimated because most cases are never reported to police or other authorities. The figures that are gathered come from a variety of sources, including clinical settings, surveys and nongovernmental organisations. They are often referred to as the tip of the iceberg because a large proportion of sexual violence occurs in areas that are not surveyed or captured by official statistics.

One of the main reasons for sexual violence is that women are seen as less important than men. In patriarchal cultures, resistance from a woman victim can be perceived as an attack on her manhood, further fuelling the perpetrator to use more violent means to control and dominate her.

Other factors influencing sexual violence include beliefs about sex, culture and power. Sociocentric cultures have more social relationships and give rise to a sense of shame that can be shared and felt in a communal way, while ego-centric cultures have more focus on the self, leading to feelings of guilt that are private and internal.

In addition to the physical and psychological impacts of sexual violence, it can have a huge financial impact, with costs such as medical bills and time off work for the survivor. It can also have an impact on those close to the survivor, such as parents, partners, friends and colleagues. These loved ones might struggle to make sense of what has happened and may feel fear, anger and self-blame.

There are a number of risk factors for sexual violence, including poverty, lack of access to healthcare and education, drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues. There are also links to gender, ethnicity and culture, as well as socio-economic status, age, location and the type of relationship a person has with their partner. In some countries, there is a link to religion and beliefs about sexuality and gender.