What is Sexual Violence?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) drew up a new definition in 2015: ‘Sexual violence is any sexual act that is carried out against someone’s will. It can be carried out by any person, regardless of his or her relationship to the victim, in any setting’.

This is a broad definition that underlines that the sexual acts are not wanted by the victim. The WHO has already specified earlier that this cannot always be demonstrated ‘actively’: ‘to force someone to commit sexual acts against his or her will, whether that act is complete or not, as well as an attempt to involve someone in sexual acts without that person being aware of the nature or condition of the deed, or without his/her option of refusing to participate or express lack of desire to participate, for example through illness, limitation, the influence of alcohol or drugs, or intimidation or pressure’.

This, therefore, represents two important points:

  • Someone is forced to engage in sexual acts against their wishes/they do not want, and/or
  • no ‘informed sexual consent’ has been given.

Sexual violence is forced or coerced sexual contact without consent – the presence of a clear yes, not the absence of a no.

Sexual assault is a crime motivated by a need to control, humiliate, dominate and harm. It can take the form of:

  • Rape
  • Incest
  • Child Sexual Abuse/Molestation
  • Oral sex
  • Harassment
  • Exposing/flashing
  • Forcing a person to pose for sexual pictures
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching above and under clothing
  • Force which may include but is not limited to:
    • Use or display of a weapon
    • Physical battering
    • Immobilization of the victim

It is important for people who experience sexual violence to seek help. Visit our Get Help section for helplines for support. Visit our Supporting Survivors page to learn how to help people in your life who have experienced sexual violence.


A new tab will open and this page will redirect to Google.