Sexual violence - overview


Sexual violence is any sexual activity or contact that occurs without your consent. It may involve physical force or the threat of force. It may occur due to coercion or threats. If you have been the victim of sexual violence, it is not your fault. Sexual violence is never the victim's fault.


Sexual assault, sexual abuse, incest, and rape are all types of sexual violence. Sexual violence is a serious public health problem. It affects people of every:

Sexual violence occurs more often in women, but men are also victims. About 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States have been the victim of completed or attempted rape (forced penetration) in their lifetime. However, sexual violence is not limited to rape.

Sexual violence is most often committed by men. It is often someone the victim knows. The perpetrator (person inflicting sexual violence) may be a:

The legal definitions of sexual violence or sexual assault vary from state to state. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sexual violence includes any of the following:

It's important to know that past sexual contact does not imply consent. Any sexual contact or activity, physical or non-physical, requires that both people agree to it freely, clearly, and willingly.

A person cannot give consent if they:


If you are being pressured into sexual activity you do not want, these tips from RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) may help you safely get out of the situation:

No matter what happens, nothing you did or said caused the assault. No matter what you were wearing, drinking, or doing - even if you were flirting or kissing - it is not your fault. Your behavior before, during, or after the incident does not change the fact that the perpetrator is at fault.


Get to safety. If you are sexually assaulted, try to get to a safe place as soon as you are able. If you are in immediate danger or are seriously injured, call 911 or your local emergency number.

Get help. Once you are safe, you can find local resources for victims of sexual assault by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-6565-HOPE (4673). If you have been raped, the hotline can connect you with hospitals who have staff trained in working with sexual assault victims and collecting evidence. The hotline may be able to send an advocate to help you during this difficult time. You can also get help and support with how to report the crime, should you decide to.

Get medical care. It is a good idea to seek medical care to check for and treat any injuries. It may not be easy, but try NOT to shower, take a bath, wash hands, cut fingernails, change clothes, or brush your teeth before receiving medical care. That way, you have the option to have evidence collected.


At the hospital, your health care providers will explain what tests and treatments may be done. They will explain what will happen and why. You will be asked for your consent before having any procedure or test.

Your health care providers will likely discuss the option to have a sexual assault forensic exam (rape kit) performed by a specially trained nurse. You can decide whether to have the exam. If you do, it will collect DNA and other evidence should you decide to report the crime. Here are some things to consider:

Your providers will also likely talk with you about:


After a sexual assault, you may feel confused, angry, or overwhelmed. It is normal to react in any number of ways:

These types of feelings and reactions are normal. Your feelings also may change over time. This too is normal.

Take time out to heal yourself physically and emotionally.

To resolve feelings related to the event, many will find that sharing those feelings with a professionally trained counselor is beneficial. It is not admitting weakness to seek help in dealing with the powerful feelings associated with personal violation. Talking with a counselor can also help you learn how to manage stress and cope with what you've experienced.

Recovering from sexual violence may take time. No two people have the same journey to recovery. Remember to be gentle with yourself as you go through the process. But you should be optimistic that over time, with the support of your trusted friends and professional therapy, you will recover.


Review Date: 10/3/2018
Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.