What is Sexual Violence?
A message from Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
Sexual violence is unlike any other crime.
Sexual violence is an intensely personal offense. It is a psychological and/or physical attack that can leave the victim feeling a spectrum of emotions. These emotions include fear, humiliation, loss of control, vulnerability, embarrassment, guilt or anger. Some victims may not define what happened to them as a crime; some may feel as if they did something to deserve the attack. Unlike victims of other crimes, sexual violence victims are often not believed, and are sometimes even blamed, for an act of violence committed against them that was completely beyond their control.
Sexual violence affects women, men and children. Anyone can be a victim or perpetrator—regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, appearance, ethnicity, education, race, socioeconomic background or religion.
Sexual violence is non-consensual conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual violence is distinguished from non-assaultive forms of sexual behavior by the absence of “consent.” Consent is the act of giving permission or approval. Consent is clear. It is not a passive assumption. For consensual sexual activity to occur, both parties must be able to give consent freely—without pressure or threat from another person.
Sexual violence is purposeful, violent behavior. The perpetrator accomplishes sexual violence through threat, coercion, exploitation, deceit, force, physical or mental incapacitation, and/or using power or authority. While sexual desire is a normal part of the human experience, it is not an excuse to use force or coercion in order to fulfill those desires.
A perpetrator may use a combination of tactics and behaviors. Sexual violence encompasses a range of acts including sexual harassment, voyeurism, exposure, sexual exploitation, sexual assault, rape, forcible sodomy, incest, child sexual abuse, ritual abuse, statutory rape, drug-facilitated sexual assault and intimate partner sexual assault.
Strangers and non-strangers alike can perpetrate sexual assault. A woman is more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone she knows—a friend, partner, date, classmate, neighbor or relative—than by a stranger in a dark alley. Individuals can be, and are, sexually assaulted by intimate partners and those they are dating. No social relationship, including marriage, entitles a person to sex, and every person has the right to change her or his mind about having sex. One form of consensual sexual contact does not necessarily mean consent to other sexual activity. Studies show that more than half of adult female sexual assault victims were attacked by a former or current intimate partner.
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