Skip to content

What is sexual violence?

‘Sexual violence’ is a term we use to describe any sexual activity that happened without consent. But it isn't a phrase you hear much in daily life and many people aren’t sure what it means – or if what happened to them 'counts'. We hope this information helps to make things clearer.


If you are affected by anything you read here, you can talk to us.

Sexual violence is any kind of sexual activity or act (including online) that was unwanted or involved one or more of the following:

  • pressure
  • manipulation
  • bullying
  • intimidation
  • threats
  • deception
  • force

In other words, any kind of sexual activity or act that took place without consent.

There are lots of different types of sexual violence, including child sexual abuse, rape and sexual assault.

No-one ever deserves or asks for sexual violence to happen – not even a little bit. 100% of the blame lies with the perpetrator or perpetrators.

However, many of the myths surrounding sexual violence can make victims and survivors feel as though they are somehow to blame.

Or that what happened to them wasn’t ‘real’ sexual violence.

Some important things to remember about sexual violence are:

  • It does not have to leave a person with visible injuries.
  • It does not have to involve other physical violence or weapons.
  • If the victim or survivor didn’t scream, try to run away or fight then that doesn’t mean it wasn’t sexual violence. It’s really common for people who experience sexual violence to find themselves unable to move or speak.
  • Sexual violence can be perpetrated by a stranger but it is very often perpetrated by someone that the person knows or even trusts. For example, a friend, colleague, family member, partner or ex-partner.
  • Orgasming or experiencing feelings of arousal during sexual violence doesn’t mean it wasn’t sexual violence.
  • A victim or survivor of sexual violence was never 'asking for it'. It doesn't matter what they were wearing or what consensual sexual activity or other interaction happened before the sexual violence.
Read more about rape myths

Why the word 'violence'?

When people hear the word 'violence', they often think of punching, kicking, hitting, beating, stabbing or shooting. But, sexual violence doesn't have to involve any of these things.

At Rape Crisis, we use the word 'violence' because we believe it does a good job of explaining the serious and lasting impact that non-consensual sexual activity and acts can have on victims and survivors.

However, we know that not everyone would use this word to describe what happened to them.

That's why you'll often see us using the phrase 'sexual violence and abuse' instead. It's also why, if a victim or survivor contacts us, we use words that are meaningful to them – not us.

An older woman looks directly at the camera with a sad expression.

What is consent?

Consent means agreeing to something by choice and having both the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

It is NOT consent if:

  • Someone was asleep, unconscious, drunk, drugged or 'on' drugs.
  • Someone was pressured, manipulated, tricked or scared into saying yes.
  • Someone was too young or vulnerable to have the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

Consent can be withdrawn at any time, including during a sexual act. Just because someone consented to something before doesn’t mean they consented to it happening again.

Find out more about consent

Types of sexual violence

There are many different types of sexual violence.

Some examples include:


Please know that this is not a full list. Just because something isn’t included here doesn’t mean it isn’t sexual violence.

Feeling unsure? Remember, the bottom line is: if there's no consent, it's sexual violence.

The terms used to describe different kinds of sexual violence – and knowing the differences between them – can be confusing. Here are a few brief definitions.

Child sexual abuse

When an adult or older child scares, manipulates, tricks or forces a child into taking part in sexual activity. This can include contact activity (e.g. rape, masturbation, kissing and touching), as well as non-contact activity (e.g. explicit sexual talk or showing pornography to children). It often involves a process known as ‘grooming’.


This is defined in English and Welsh law as the intentional penetration with a penis of another person's vagina, anus or mouth without their consent. It is also rape if someone removes a condom without the other person’s consent during sex – what is commonly known as ‘stealthing’.

In law, penetration of another person’s vagina or anus with any part of the body other than the penis, or with any object, without their consent is defined as ‘assault by penetration’. This crime carries the same sentence as rape.

Sexual assault 

This is defined in English and Welsh law as sexual touching of another person without their consent, with any part of the body or with anything else. This includes unwanted kissing or touching, or being forced to perform sexual acts. It could also include the touching of someone’s clothing.

Sexual harassment 

Any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that makes a person feel upset, scared or ashamed. It can take lots of different forms. For example, a person’s body being stared at or being sent messages with sexual content.

Key statistics

  • 1 in 4women

    have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult

    (6.54 million women in total)

  • 1 in 6children

    have been sexually abused

  • 1 in 18men

    have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult

    (1.34 million men in total)

Who is affected by sexual violence?

Anyone can experience sexual violence.

It happens to people of all ages, backgrounds, cultures, sexualities, faiths and ethnicities. This includes children, older people, LGBT+ people and disabled people.

Research shows that the majority of victims and survivors of sexual violence are women and girls, and that most perpetrators are male. However, men and boys can also experience sexual violence.

Why does sexual violence happen?

Researchers have different ideas about why people perpetrate sexual violence.

But whatever the reason or motive, there is never any excuse or justification for sexual violence. Sexual abuse, rape and sexual assault are serious crimes. They cannot be explained away.

If you have been through any kind of sexual violence, please know that it was not your fault. It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened, where you were, what you were doing, what you were wearing or whether you were drunk or had taken drugs – you are in no way to blame.

Getting help and support

Everyone responds differently to sexual violence and abuse – so whatever someone feels is a valid response. But for lots of people, it can have a long-lasting impact on their feelings and wellbeing.


If you have experienced any form of sexual violence or abuse – whether it was recently or a long time ago – Rape Crisis is here for you. We will listen to you and believe you.