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What is sexual violence?

Sexual violence is any unwanted sexual act or activity. There are many different kinds of sexual violence, including but not restricted to: rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, rape within marriage/relationships, trafficking, sexual exploitation, and ritual abuse.

Sexual violence can be committed by someone known and even trusted, such as a friend, colleague, family member, partner or ex-partner as well as by strangers and acquaintances. Sexual violence can happen regardless of sex, age, carer responsibility, class, disability, gender identity, immigration status, ethnicity, geography or religion.

Sexual violence can take many forms, it can includes but is not limited to:

  • forcing or coercing someone into sexual activities against their will
  • using objects violently or in a non-consensual way during sex
  • forcing or coercing someone to have sex with another person when they do not wish to
  • sharing sexual stories or images about someone without their consent
  • forcing or coercing someone to perform sexual acts in front of others when they do not want to
  • forcing or coercing someone to mimic pornography
  • forcing or coercing someone to be photographed or filmed during sex/whilst sexual abuse is taking place
  • forcing or coercing someone to watch or look at pornography
  • calling someone sexual or derogatory names

Sexual violence is always the fault of the perpetrator regardless of what the survivor has previously done, the clothes they are wearing or if they are drunk or have taken drugs.

Sexual consent

Sexual consent is, by law, where someone agrees by choice to that sexual activity and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice. Someone may not have the freedom and capacity to consent if they are scared for their life or safety or for the life or safety of someone they care about, or if they are asleep or unconscious or incapacitated through alcohol or drugs.

Consent to sexual activity may be given to one sort of sexual activity but not another. Consent can be withdrawn at any time during sexual activity and each time activity occurs.¹

Sexual activity without consent is rape or sexual assault and is a crime.

Anyone affected by these forms of violence and abuse should be able to access help and support when they need it and every case should be taken seriously. The Live Fear Free Helpline is a 24 hour helpline for women, children and men experiencing domestic abuse, sexual violence or other forms of violence against women on 0808 80 10 800.

¹ Crown Prosecution Service, What is Consent.

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