Hesperian Health Guides

Kinds of Rape and Sexual Assault

A woman often finds it harder to ask for help if the man is someone she knows. It is also harder to feel safe if she must see him again.

There are many different kinds of sexual assault. But only a few of them are seen by most people as rape. For example, sometimes life events can push a woman into having sex when she does not really want to. This can happen in a marriage. Some married women are made to feel that having sex is their duty, whether they want to or not. Although society does not punish this type of forced sex, it is still wrong.

For other women, having sex is a way to survive—to get support for their children, to have a place to live or some money, or to keep a job. No matter what the reason is, a woman should not be forced to have sex if she does not want to.

In any relationship, a woman can choose to accept or refuse a sexual approach. If she refuses, the man then has a choice to either respect her and accept her decision, to try and change her mind, or to force her. Even if the woman knows the man and says “yes,” if saying “no” was not really an option, then it is rape.

Any time a woman is forced to have sex, whether or not there is other violence too, it can cause many problems with her health and emotions.

Rape by someone the woman knows

Most women who are raped know the man who rapes them. If the woman must continue to have contact with him, it can make it very hard for her to recover from the rape and to tell others about it.

More Information
sexual abuse
date rape

Rape by a husband or ex-husband. If the law or traditional custom treats a woman as the property of her husband, he may think he has the right to have sex whenever he wants, even if the woman does not want it.

a young woman pushing away a young man who is trying to have sex with her

A woman can be raped by her boyfriend. Her boyfriend may say he has the right to have sex because he has spent money on her, because they have had sex before, because she has teased him sexually, or because he has offered to marry her. But if he forces her, it is still rape. A woman may find it hard to talk about this kind of rape, because she fears others will blame her.

Sexual harassment. A woman may be forced to have sex by a co-worker or by her supervisor or boss so that she can keep her job. She may be threatened with losing her job or other punishment if she tells anyone.

a man getting into bed with a young girl who looks scared
Touching a child sexually is rape.

Sexual abuse of children. A girl or boy can be raped by a man in the family or any adult. If a father, stepfather, uncle, brother, cousin, or any other family member makes a child have sex, or touches her or him in a sexual way, this is rape. It is important to realize that children may be confused and may not understand what is happening to them, especially if they trust the person who is abusing them. Other members of the family may not know of the abuse, they may deny that it happens, or they may say it is the child’s fault. It is never right to blame the person who has been raped, but especially not a child.

Rape by a stranger

This is the kind of sexual assault that most people think of when they hear the word ‘rape.’ A woman may be grabbed on the street, or attacked in her home. This kind of rape is very frightening, but it is much less common than rape by someone the woman knows.

Gang rape. A woman can be raped by more than one man. Sometimes a man starts raping a woman and other men see it and join in. Or sometimes young men and boys get together and rape a woman to prove their ‘manhood’ to one another.

Prison rape. Many women are raped by police or prison guards after they have been arrested. Also, rape is common between male prisoners as a way to establish who has more power.

Those who survive war rape need special care. She may need surgery because of severe damage to her genitals. If a woman gets pregnant, she and her child may suffer from the reminder that she was raped by an enemy.

a soldier grabbing a woman while two other soldiers guard a man
Rape is a form of
torture when it is
used in war.

War. Soldiers or fighters often use rape to terrorize women and their community, and to make people feel ashamed. Soldiers may gang rape women and girls in front of their families to show the enemy’s power. Women may be held in camps, and forced into prostitution or sexual slavery in order to stay alive, to keep their children safe, or to get food.

This page was updated:01 Feb 2021