What is sexual violence?


Sexual violence (SV) occurs throughout the world, although in most countries there has been little research conducted on the problem. Due to the private nature of SV and stigma and discrimination surrounding SV, estimating the extent of the problem is difficult. It is not a new issue, although recent media and governmental focus is bringing it into the spotlight.


Sexual violence (SV) has a profound impact on an individual’s physical and mental health. As well as causing physical injury, it is associated with an increased risk of a range of sexual and reproductive health problems, with both immediate and long-term consequences. Its impact on mental health can be as serious as its physical impact, and may be equally long lasting.Deaths following sexual violence may be as a result of suicide, HIV infection or murder – the latter occurring either during a sexual assault or subsequently, as a murder of ‘‘honour’’. Sexual violence can also profoundly affect the social wellbeing of victims; individuals are often stigmatised and ostracised by their families and others as a consequence.

Sexual violence is a form of Gender-based violence (GBV), which is a violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender or sex. Sexual violence is one form of GBV.


“Any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work. “ (WHO, 2002)

A wide range of sexually violent acts can take place in different circumstances and settings. These include:

  • Rape by strangers;
  • Rape within marriage or dating relationships;
  • Systematic “war rape” during armed conflict;
  • Unwanted sexual advances or sexual harassment, including demanding sex in return
    for favours;
  • Sexual abuse of mentally or physically disabled people;
  • Sexual abuse of children;
  • Forced marriage or cohabitation, including the marriage of children;
  • Denial of the right to use contraception or to adopt other measures to protect against
    sexually transmitted diseases;
  • Forced abortion;
  • Violent acts against sexual integrity, including genital mutilation and obligatory
    inspections for virginity.