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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, 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 constructs of masculinity,
  • the subjugation of women, and
  • 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.

Sexual violence is a widespread social problem that affects women 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). 
  • Approximately 1 in 5 women has been raped in her lifetime (CDC, 2010). 
  • In most cases, the assault was committed by someone the woman knew (CDC, 2010).

A woman can have physical, mental, and/or emotional reactions to sexual violence. Many women who suffered sexual abuse during childhood carry the effects of the abuse throughout their lives (Perez-Fuentes et al., 2013). 

Every woman is different, but many women feel alone, scared, 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.  Sexual violence can affect a woman’s long-term ability to work and maintain healthy relationships (Fanflik, 2007; Perez-Fuentes et al., 2013).

Help is available.

Contact your local rape crisis center to find out about free and confidential counseling, support groups, and other services. Women who identify as LGBTQ may have additional needs and questions. For more information, visit our LGBTQ page.


Sexual assault in the military

Rape in prisons

Substance use and sexual violence

Why should a victim of sexual assault visit a hospital?

Campus Sexual Assault

What to know about sexual harassment


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?  Retrieved from National Association of District Attorneys website:

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.