Preventing Sexual Violence

What is Sexual Violence?

Sexual violence is sexual activity when consent in not obtained or not freely given. It is a serious public health problem in the United States. Sexual violence impacts every community and affects people of all genders, sexual orientations, and ages—anyone can experience or perpetrate sexual violence. The perpetrator of sexual violence is usually someone known to the victim, such as a friend, current or former intimate partner, coworker, neighbor, or family member.

Sexual violence is associated with several risk and protective factors. It is connected to other forms of violence, and causes serious health and economic consequences. By using a public health approach that addresses risk and protective factors for multiple types of violence, sexual violence and other forms of violence can be prevented.

How big is the problem?

Sexual violence affects millions of people each year in the United States. Researchers know that the numbers underestimate this significant problem as many cases go unreported. Victims may be ashamed, embarrassed, or afraid to tell the police, friends, or family about the violence. Victims may also keep quiet because they have been threatened with further harm if they tell anyone or do not think that anyone will help them.

Still, we do have data that show:

  • Sexual violence is common. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes. Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 38 men have experienced completed or attempted rape and 1 in 14 men was made to penetrate someone (completed or attempted) during his lifetime.
  • Sexual violence starts early. 1 in 3 female rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years old and 1 in 8 reported that it occurred before age 10. Nearly 1 in 4 male rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years old and about 1 in 4 reported that it occurred before age 10.
  • Sexual violence is costly. Recent estimates put the cost of rape at $122,461 per victim, including medical costs, lost productivity, criminal justice activities, and other costs.

What are the consequences?

The consequences of sexual violence are physical, like bruising and genital injuries, and psychological, such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

The consequences may also be chronic. Victims may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, experience re-occurring gynecological, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and
sexual health problems.

Sexual violence is also linked to negative health behaviors. For example, victims are more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol, use drugs, and engage in risky sexual activity.

The trauma resulting from sexual violence can have an impact on a survivor’s employment in terms of time off from work, diminished performance, job loss, or being unable to work. These disrupt earning power and have a long-term effect on the economic well-being of survivors and their families. Readjustment after victimization can be challenging: victims may have difficulty in their personal relationships, in returning to work or school, and in regaining a sense of normalcy.

In addition, sexual violence is connected to other forms of violence. For example, girls who have been sexually abused are more likely to experience other forms of violence and additional sexual violence, and be a victim of intimate partner violence in adulthood. Perpetrating bullying in early middle school is associated with sexual harassment perpetration in adolescence.

How can we stop sexual violence before it starts?

The strategies and approaches are intended to impact individual behaviors as well as the relationship, family, school community, and societal factors that influence risk and protective factors for violence.

  • Promote Social Norms that Protect Against Violence:
    • Bystander approaches
    • Mobilizing men and boys as allies
  • Teach Skills to Prevent Sexual Violence
    • Social-emotional learning
    • Teaching healthy, safe dating and intimate relationship skills to teens
    • Promoting healthy sexuality
    • Empowerment-based training
  • Provide Opportunities to Empower and Support Girls and Women
    • Strengthening economic supports for women and families
    • Strengthening leadership and opportunities for girls
  • Create Protective Environments
    • Improving safety and monitoring in schools
    • Establishing and consistently applying workplace policies
    • Addressing community-level risks through environmental approaches
  • Support Victims/Survivors to Lessen Harms
    • Victim-centered services
    • Treatment for victims of SV
    • Treatment for at-risk children and families to prevent the problem behavior including sex offending