What is meant by the terms ‘sexual violence’ and ‘sexual assault’?
Sexual violence is a word used to describe many different types of sexually abuse behaviour including:
- sexual harassment
- any unwanted sexual touch
- rape and attempted rape
- exposing another to pornographic material
- recording sexual activity (eg. on camera or phone) without participant’s consent
- distribution of sexually explicit images of a person without their consent
- and sexual contact with a child.
Sexual assault is any act of a sexual nature, which happens to a person (adult or child) without their consent or any act of a sexual nature that has been coerced. It also includes any sexual activity that occurs with the intention of intimidating, humiliating, or harming another.
Consent does not occur where someone:
- has said ‘no’ or has pushed the other person away
- is ‘frozen with fear’
- is unable to communicate what they would like to do eg. it is a crime of sexual violence to have any sexual contact with someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the point where they are unable to express themselves.
- is unaware of exactly who they are with eg. it is a crime of sexual violence to have sexual contact with someone while pretending to be someone else.
- is not able to make an informed decision about what they would like to do.
Coercion refers to making someone do something they do not want to do by:
- threatening violence
- threatening humiliation
- trying to convince her by suggesting that she doesn’t know what she really wants
- making her responsible for their own physical and emotional health
- exerting physical control over her
- Any sexual contact between a child and an adolescent or adult is considered coercive due to the power differential that results from age difference.
Sexual violence is always an act of power by one person over another in a less powerful position. Reasons why the person may be in a less powerful position could be: gender, age, sexual preference, ethnic or cultural background, disability, socio-economic background.
Sexual violence functions not only to harm but also to control the victim.
Sexual violence is a profound abuse of the human rights of the person who experienced it, and is largely (although not entirely) perpetrated by members of one social group (males) against members of other social groups (women and children).