What is Sexual Violence?

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What is sexual violence?

Sexual violence is any type of unwanted sexual contact, ranging from sexist attitudes and actions to rape and murder. Sexual violence can include words and actions of a sexual nature against a person’s will.

A person may use:

  • force,
  • threats,
  • manipulation, or
  • coercion to commit sexual violence.

There is a social context that surrounds sexual violence. Social norms that

  • condone violence,
  • using power over others, 
  • traditional ideas about masculinity,
  • social norms that allow for sexism, racism, adultism, and other forms of oppression
  • promote silence about violence and abuse contribute to the occurrence of sexual violence.

Oppression in all of its forms is among the root causes of sexual violence. Sexual violence is preventable through collaborations of community members at multiple levels of society—in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, faith settings, workplaces, and other settings. We all play a role in preventing sexual violence and establishing norms of respect, safety, equality, and helping others.

How can I help?

When someone tells another person about an experience of sexual violence, it’s called making a disclosure. Making a disclosure can be a source of healing. If someone makes a disclosure to you, it means they see you as a safe person. You can be a resource to that person.

  • Believe them. People tell the truth about their experiences of sexual violence. Let them know that you believe them, and it is not their fault. 
  • Listen to what they have to say. Hearing a disclosure can be hard. Let them know you care by quietly listening. Give them your full attention. Try not to ask the survivor to take care of you at that moment. Having difficult feelings and reactions is a normal part of hearing a disclosure. You can find support for your reactions, in addition to supporting the survivor. 
  • Provide options and choices. No matter when the violence took place, survivors have choices for how they respond. Some find that getting medical help can offer peace of mind. Others may decide to report to the police. Calling a local sexual assault program or RAINN can help anyone get connected with counseling, advocacy, and support. They can also choose to do nothing. They can change their minds as time passes. 

Contact us

To learn more about how you can help to support survivors of sexual violence, contact us.

People who commit sexual violence

People who commit sexual offenses are in families, workplaces and communities. They come from all walks of life. Many different people with many different identities commit sexual violence.

They most often commit violence against people they know. There are some who victimize strangers. They commit sexual violence for many different reasons. They also use a wide range of tactics to gain access to the people they victimize.

For more information on sex offenders visit the list of sex offender organizations and technical assistance providers.  

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