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Sexual violence is a term meant to include any type of unwanted sexual contact. This can include words and actions of a sexual nature including, but not limited to:

  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Incest
  • Child sexual assault
  • Date and acquaintance rape
  • Grabbing or groping
  • Sexting without permission
  • Ritual abuse
  • Commerical sexual exploitation (i.e. prostitution)
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sexual or anti-LGBTQ bullying
  • Exposure and voyeurism
  • Forced participation in the production of pornography

Some forms of sexual violence are illegal, such as rape and incest. Others are not illegal, such as sexist and sexually violent jokes, street harassment and catcalling, but this does not make them any less threating or harmful to the person victimized.

Sexual violence can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, geography, ability, appearance, sexual orientation, and gender identity and has a tremendous impact on everyone - the survivor, their families, significant others, and their community.

A person may use

  • force
  • threats
  • manipulation
  • coercion to commit sexual violence

There is a social context that surrounds sexual violence.

Social norms that contribute to the occurence of sexual violence condone:

  • violence
  • using power over others
  • traditional constructs of masculinity
  • the subjugation of women
  • silence about violence and abuse

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.

Sexual violence is a widespread social problem that affects people from all backgrounds (CDC, 2010; Fanflik, 2007). Ranging from harassment to rape, these types of offenses are the most underreported crimes in this country (Fanflik, 2007).

In the United States:

  • Nearly 63% of women have experienced some form of sexual violence (CDC, 2010). 
  • Nearly 24% of men experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime (CDC, 2010).
  • Approximately 1 in 5 women has been raped in her lifetime (CDC, 2010). 
  • 1 in 71 men have been raped in his lifetime (CDC, 2010).
  • Men are most likely to experience sexual violence in their 20's and 30's (Bullock & Beckson, 2011).
  • In most cases, the assault was committed by someone the person knew (CDC, 2010).

Effects of Sexual Violence

Survivors can have physical, mental and/or emotional reactions to sexual violence. While every survivor is different, many feel alone, scare, ashamed, and fear that no one will believe them. Other common reactions include changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits, and an increase in drug or alcohol use. For men, societal pressures of what it stereotypically means to ‘be a man’ can intensify feelings of shame and embarrassment.

Help, hope, and healing are available.

Contact your local rape crisis center by calling 1-888-772-7227 or searching our interactive map to find out about free and confidential counseling, support groups, and other services. LGBTQ people may have additional needs and questions. For more information, visit our LGBTQ page.



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Bullock, C. M., & Beckson, M. (2011).  Male victims of sexual assault: Phenomenology, psychology, physiology. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 39(2), 197-205.

Centers for Disease Control. (2010). The national intimate partner and sexual violence survey.  Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control website:

Fanflik, P. L. (2007). Victim responses to sexual assault: Counterintuitive or simply adaptive?  National Association of District Attorneys,

Finkelhor, D., Hotaling, G., Lewis, I., & Smith, C. (1990). Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence, characteristics, and risk factors. Child Abuse and Neglect, 14, 19-28.

Perez-Fuentes, G., Olfson, M., Villegas, L., Morcillo, C., Wang, S., & Blanco, C. (2013). Prevalence and correlates of child sexual abuse: A national study. Comprehensive Psychology, 54, 16-27.

Turchik, J. A. (2012).  Sexual victimization among male college students: Assault severity, sexual functioning, and health risk behaviors.Psychology of Males and Masculinity, 13(3), 243-255.