Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 19: Rape and Sexual Violence

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In this chapter:

a woman hiding her face against a wall

Sexual violence is never the fault of the person who is attacked

As with other kinds of violence, a rapist’s goal is to gain power and control over their victims. For more information, see How gender inequality supports violence.

This chapter is about rape and other sexual violence. You may find some of the descriptions and stories upsetting or difficult to read. Please read with care and see the Resources section for more information and support. Also see Chapter 18, “Violence Against Women” for more about violence.

This chapter uses the word “victim” for someone who experienced sexual violence recently, and “survivor” for someone who has gone through some kind of recovery process after sexual violence. Ask anyone you are trying to help what words they use to describe what they experienced. When you use words that person prefers, it will help them be more comfortable speaking with you about what happened.

Sexual violence is when someone forces another person into any sexual activity. This force can be physical force, threats, or giving someone drugs or alcohol. There are many forms of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking. Sexual violence can happen to anyone, but happens most often to women and girls.

Rape is when someone puts a body part or object inside another person’s vagina, anus, or mouth without their consent. Consent means that people having any kind of sexual activity are doing so without being forced. A child or a teenager, someone under the effects of alcohol or drugs, or a sleeping or unconscious person cannot give their consent.

Rape and sexual violence are never the fault of the person who is attacked, even if that person does not fight back against their attacker. No matter what she decides to do, if it was not her choice, it was rape, and it is never her fault.

People who commit sexual violence often attack those with less power. The lower status of women and girls means they usually have less protection in the community and from authorities. Other marginalized groups—people with disabilities, refugees and migrants, ethnic minorities, gay, lesbian, and transgender people, and and people without homes—also face more sexual violence. Young people, who have fewer rights and are smaller and weaker than adults, are also at higher risk.

This page was updated:22 Jan 2024