Sexual Violence Against Adults


When a person forces or manipulates an adult (ages 18-60) into unwanted sexual activity, that person has committed sexual violence. An adult may choose not to give consent for a number of reasons. These reasons can include:

  • Fear 
  • Illness 
  • Disability
  • Influence of alcohol or other drugs

Common factors

It doesn’t matter what someone wears or how they act.  No one asks to be raped. People who commit these acts often use force, threat, or injury. However, injuries or physical signs will not always be present.

Adults usually know the person who commits sexual violence against them. An acquaintance, friend, intimate partner, or family member can commit this act. Sometimes it happens within an intimate relationship. We call this Intimate Partner Sexual Violence (IPSV).

The impact of sexual violence:

Each person reacts to sexual violence in their own way. There are some common responses that many adults report. These include:

  • Emotional responses (like guilt, shame, fear, sadness, or anger)
  • Behavioral responses (like nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, or eating disorders)
  • Physical responses (like injuries, concerns about pregnancy, or changes in sleeping patterns)

Friends, family, partners, or children may have similar responses. Help is also available to significant others.

50% of adults lost or were forced to quit their jobs in the year following their rapes (Ellis, Atkeson & Calhoun, 1981). 

Many adults (50 to 95%) will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after experiencing rape (Population Information Program, 1999).

Rape is the least reported and convicted violent crime in the U.S. 

An adult may choose not to report to law enforcement. He or she may never talk about what happened. Reasons for this decision include:

  • Concern for not being believed
  • Fear of the attackers getting back at him/her
  • Embarrassment or shame
  • Fear of being blamed
  • Pressure from others not to tell
  • Distrust of law enforcement
  • Belief that there is not enough evidence
  • Desire to protect the attacker

Many people who do report a rape or sexual assault find that there is no arrest or conviction (Reynolds, 1999).

Statistics for experiencing sexual violence as an adult:

Women are more likely to experience sexual violence than men.

An adult usually knows the person who attacks him or her.

  • 73% knew the person
  • 38% were friends of the person
  • 28% were an intimate partner of the person
  • 7% were a relative of the person (Maston & Klaus, 2005).

Tools and resources

What is Sexual Violence by NSVRC (2010)

This two page fact sheet provides definitions and facts about sexual violence. Also available in Spanish.

The Impact of Sexual Violence by the NSVRC (2010)

This two page fact sheet provides general information on the impact of sexual violence on survivors, significant others and communities.

Marital rape by VAWnet (2010)

This 30 minute online learning tool is adapted from the Applied Research Paper, Marital Rape: New research and directions by Raquel Kennedy Bergen. Participants will learn the definition, risk factors, and effects of marital rape and will be able to identify potential intervention strategies.

Strategies for Prosecuting Sexual Assault Cases by the NSVRC (2012)

This video podcast is an interview with Mr. Thomas Nolan, Special Projects Staff Attorney with the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault in St. Paul, Minnesota. Here, he discusses his strategies for the prosecution of sexual assault cases, focusing on the theme and the story of the case.

Sexual Assault Response Team Development by the NSVRC (2012)

This video podcast is an interview with Ms. Elizabeth Nieves is the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Coordinator for Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Pittsboro, North Carolina. Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services. In this interview, Ms. Nieves discusses her efforts to organize a SART by reaching out to local partners, including law enforcement leadership.

Health and Sexual Violence Research Brief by the NSVRC (2012)

This research brief provides information on research that explores how sexual victimization can impact physical and mental health.


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