What is Sexual Violence / Sexual Abuse / Sexual Assault and Rape?

The term "sexual violence" is an all-encompassing, non-legal term that refers to crimes like sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.

The World Health Organisation provides a broad definition of Sexual Violence as: “Any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work”

The definition of “coercion” is wide: apart from physical force, it may involve psychological intimidation, blackmail or other threats including the threat of physical harm, of being dismissed from a job or of not obtaining a job that is sought. It may also occur when the person is unable to give consent while drunk, drugged, asleep or mentally incapable of understanding the situation.

Sexual Violence includes: -

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Rape - commonly refers to forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration through physical force, such as being restrained or drugged, or threats to escalate violence. Penetration may be by a body part or an object. Rape victims may be forced through threats or physical means. Anyone may be a victim of rape: women, men or children, straight or gay.

Partner Rape - sexual acts committed without a person’s consent and/or against a person’s will when the perpetrator is the individual’s current partner or previous partner (married or not), or co-habitor. Many times, there is not any physical violence associated with sexual assault, but that doesn’t mean that it does not happen. Many survivors also experience battering or severe physical violence along with sexual violence.

Sexual Assault - refers to any sexual, physical, verbal, or visual act that forces a person to engage in sexual contact against their will or without their affirmative consent. 

Sexual Harassment - any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. With harassment, submission to or rejection of such conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s work or school performance. It also creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or school environment.

Stalking - repeated attempts by someone to make unwanted contact with you or contact which is making you feel distressed or restricts your freedom. Unwanted contact can include telephone calls, letters, emails, text messages, and messages on social networking sites, graffiti or sending or leaving gifts.

Other unwanted behaviour might include;waiting for you
- spying on you
- approaching you
- going to your home

A stalker may also order or cancel your goods or services, make complaints to organisations about you, damage your property or try to talk to you online (cyber-stalking).

Sexual exploitation by a helping professional: sexual contact of any kind between a helping professional (doctor, therapist, teacher, priest, professor, police officer, lawyer, etc.) and a client/patient.

Childhood Sexual Abuse - 

Incest - sexual contact between persons who are so closely related that their marriage is illegal (e.g., parents and children, uncles/aunts and nieces/nephews, etc.) This usually takes the form of an older family member sexually abusing a child or adolescent. Many experts consider incest to be a particularly damaging form of sexual abuse. This is because individuals whom the victim trusts and depends on are the perpetrators. In addition, there is often a lack of  familial support. There is even sometimes pressure to keep silent from family members because they fear the family will disintegrate if the truth comes out.

Ritualised Abuse - The term ritual abuse is generally used to mean repeated, extreme, sadistic abuse, especially of children, within a group setting. The group often has an ideology of some kind which is used to justify the abuse, and the abusive rituals in turn are used to reinforce its ideology. Physical abuse can occur as beatings, torture, cutting, confinement, forced ingestion of drugs or bodily fluids. Emotional abuse involves trickery, deceit, emotional manipulation, mind control, and blaming the victim. Sexual abuse is sadistic and may involve anal, oral or vaginal penetration, even of extremely young children. Spiritual abuse manifests itself as reversal of good and evil, a destruction-based morality, and the denial of autonomy and freedom of thought.These activities are kept secret from society at large because they violate society’s norms.

Forced Prostitution - 

Harmful Traditional Practices - Harmful traditional practices are forms of violence which have been committed primarily against women and girls in certain communities and societies for so long that they are considered, or presented by perpetrators, as part of accepted cultural practice. 

The most common are; 

Forced or early marriage - can be defined as ‘a marriage in which one or both spouses do not  (or, in the case of some adults with learning or physical disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and duress is involved’. 

So-called ‘honour’-based violence - any type of physical or psychological violence committed in the name of ‘honour’ predominantly against women for actual or perceived immoral behaviour, which is deemed to have shamed their family or community. 

Female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM) - refers to procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

Victims of forced marriage and “honour” based violence often experience abuse within the relationship.  Rape, physical, emotional and psychological violence, forced pregnancy and restrictions on freedom of dress, behaviour and lifestyle are common.  Some women are virtually under house arrest, and may only be allowed out if accompanied by family members.

Male Sexual Assualt - 

If you have been raped or sexually abused or are supporting someone else who has, you can contact The Womens Centre Cornwall for help and information.

It doesn't matter whether this happened recently or a long time ago. You can phone our helpline to speak to someone in confidence.

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