Sexual violence comes in many forms. Here are some of the most common forms of sexual violence – click on each one for more information..
Rape is defined by the law as when someone puts their penis into a person’s vagina, anus or mouth without their consent. This means that the person did not give permission for this to happen.
It does not have to be forced or violent, sometimes it can be one person putting pressure on another person to do something sexual that they don’t want to do or don’t feel ready for.
It is more common for people to experience rape from someone they know (a partner, friend, or family member) than a stranger. This can feel extremely confusing for people and can make it feel hard to know who to trust.
If someone has forced or pressured another person to have sex with them, this is not okay and they can get support here.
A sexual assault is how we describe a non-consensual sexual act that does not meet the legal definition of rape. It is any kind of sexual touching that happens without your permission.
Sometimes people may find it easier to recognise they have been sexually assaulted if it involves violence. But it does not have to be violence to be assault. We support people who have experienced any kind of sexual violence.
Grooming – as defined by the NSPCC – is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so that they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.
It is most often an adult grooming a child or young person, however this can happen to adults too.
One aspect of grooming is that people can be manipulated into thinking they are in a loving and consensual relationship. But when that person lies to you, or leads you to believe things about them that are not true, this is an abuse of power and trust.
A survivor of grooming and child sexual abuse wrote about her experiences:
If I asked my 15-year-old self ‘did I want this to happen? Did I consent to this’ I would probably say, yes. I engaged in the conversation, I enabled him to consume me. To make me feel safe. To make me feel loved. To make me feel special.
I relished in the attention he gave me. I felt beautiful and mature, like a woman. For years I struggled to come to terms with this ‘relationship’. Because to me this was exactly what it was. A relationship built on trust between two people… a consenting relationship.
The years passed and the people who knew about this ‘relationship’ probably ignored it or forgot about it and went on with their lives. However, I could never ignore it and I will never be able to forget it.
I struggled to come to term with this relationship actually being abusive, and I huge part of that was people all of these people, many of who I thought maybe cared about me, whose daughters where my ages, who watched me grow from a child to a woman did nothing. Which means there was nothing wrong. Doesn’t it? If adults, parents, mothers, could stand by and protect this near 40-year-old man and do nothing about his ‘relationship’ with a child then it must be consensual.
Years went by and I started to disclose what happen to other people. People who grew up in the city away from the rural culture I was used to. My friends where shocked that this had happened and that no one stood up for me and what they, as young adults believe to be right. These people where now my community. They where angry. Angry that these adults who children shared my life would stand by a watch a child being abused and assaulted when It could so easily have been their own daughter.
It was this reaction that made me start to question consent. Is a relationship between a child and an adult consensual? As my 16th birthday passed would it have then been considered consent then? I can’t explain the relief and heartache I have felt throughout this journey but now know more then 10 years later that what happened was abuse regardless of how I felt at that time. I was sexually assaulted, groomed and cohersed by an adult who worked in my school, as a youth club leader, who regularly involved himself in the community and with the communities children.
This individual was in a position of power. This man was in a position of authority over children and for whatever reason he chose me to assault, I did not choose to be with him. I don’t believe I am the only person that this man has lured into a false relationship and I can only hope that the community that let me down would now stand up for another child and do what is right instead of what is easy.
It takes a village to raise a child and that power is immense. When that village does what is easy and ignores a fight that cannot be won alone that village destroys a child.
If someone is older than you or in a position of power over you, such as a teacher, friend of your parents, or elder relative, and has a sexual or intimate relationship with you, this is a form of abuse.
Signs to be aware of:
- If this person tells you to keep your relationship a secret
- They tell you you will get in trouble if people find out
- They emotionally manipulate you into doing things you do not feel comfortable with or ready for, especially sexual things – this could be online or in person
- They threaten you with sharing your secrets if you do not do what they want
- They often make you feel guilty or ashamed, but you feel dependent on them in some way.
If any of these things sound familiar you can get in touch for some support here.
Giving someone alcohol/drugs without their permission
No-one should take advantage of someone who is under the influence or give them more alcohol or drugs without their knowledge. This could happen by someone being given larger measures, being encouraged to drink more with drinking games or binge drinking, or having their drink spiked with drugs. This can impair a person’s ability to make decisions so the law says they can’t consent to sex.
It doesn’t matter what the reason – if a person is too drunk/high it is not okay to sexually assault them.
People who have experienced sexual violence when under the influence of alcohol or drugs can often feel shame or self-blame around this (see impacts of sexual violence). But no matter how drunk or high someone is it is always the perpetrator’s fault.
Many people wonder why sexual insults count as sexual violence but allowing what can seem to be small behaviours can contribute to behaviours that are much more damaging.
For example, telling a sexist or homophobic joke, or cat calling/shouting sexual ‘compliments’ at someone, sends the message to people that sexist or homophobic behaviours are acceptable, and can make people feel unsafe and/or threatened. If people think these behaviours are acceptable then it can lead to more dangerous behaviour.
It is not okay for anyone to make sexual comments that make someone else feel uncomfortable or unsafe. This is true whether it is someone they know or a stranger, or whether the comments happen in real life or online. Everyone deserves to have their personal boundaries respected.
Illustration Credit: https://www.instagram.com/not.a.doormat/
Sexual insults can also count as sexual bullying and harassment – see the appropriate section below for more examples.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is when part of or all of the female external genitals is removed. This is usually done for cultural reasons or beliefs, and often when women are young.
Child sexual abuse
Sexual abuse of children involves any sexual activity with a child under 16 years of age by an adult (someone over 18). It is most often carried out by a person who is well known to the child, often within the family or in another position of trust.
It is also against the law for an adult to engage in sexual activity with someone who is aged 16 or 17 if the older person is in a position of trust. A position of trust is someone who looks after you for example, in a school or a care home.
Sexual abuse of children is not about uncontrollable desire – it is a desire to exert power and control over a young person for sexual gratification.
Children and young people can also be abused through sexual exploitation. This is where someone seeks or requires sexual activity from you in exchange for something you need like money, drugs/alcohol, a place to stay, protection from violence of a sense of belonging. with other forms of child sexual abuse, the presence of perceived consent does not mean this isn’t sexual abuse.
A forced marriage is a marriage between two people where one, or both, do not consent to the marriage, and where pressure or abuse is used to force the person, usually the woman, to go through with the marriage.
This is different to arranged marriages, which are a cultural practice that involves the couple consenting to their marriage being arranged for them. Forced marriage is when the person/people involved have not given consent to an arranged marriage or to the chosen partner. This could also mean that they did something they didn’t want to do because they felt very pressured, or that their family would stop speaking to them if they said no. Consent needs to be free agreement.
Illustration credit: https://www.instagram.com/not.a.doormat/
If this is something you have experienced, or know someone who has, you can get in touch with us here, or speak to the Ruby Project, who support and advocate for women survivors of sexual violence from BME communities
Unwanted touching or kissing
If someone touches someone in a sexual way or kisses them without their consent, this is sexual violence. Always ask someone if they are comfortable with you kissing or touching them.
Illustration credit: https://www.instagram.com/themidwifeisin/?hl=en
Stalking is when someone directs unwanted or obsessive attention at you.
Examples of stalking:
- Following someone
- Hanging around nearby e.g. at their home or at work
- Turning up to someone’s house uninvited
- Learning someone’s routine to regularly bump into them
- Monitoring or watching them
- Sending unwanted gifts or messages
- Persistent calls or texts or online harassment
The law states that if two or more occasions of unwanted attention are directed repeatedly toward someone causing them fear or alarm then this is breaking the law.
We can help you, give you advice and/or advocate on your behalf with the police if you think you are being stalked. You can get in touch with us here for further information.
For a fuller list of examples as well as advice on how to report if that’s what you want to do, you can visit the website Action Scotland Against Stalking (ASSA).
Coercion and violence in relationships
Sexual violence can also happen within relationships. People can feel coerced or threatened to perform sexual acts that they do not want to. This is forcing someone to participate in sex against their will, and can happen in any relationship between people of any gender or sexual orientation.
Threats can be obvious or they can be more subtle. Someone may agree to participate in a sexual act because they want to avoid their partner’s anger, or prevent them sulking or threatening to end the relationship. This kind of behaviour is coercion and it is abuse.
Illustration credit https://www.instagram.com/not.a.doormat/
Relationship abuse can also involve verbal, emotional and psychological abuse. This can include calling someone names, making fun of them, blaming them for the abuse, threatening to tell people personal things about them, watching everything they do, including checking up on their social networking sites or threatening violence against them or people they love.
Sexual exploitation includes offering something in exchange for sex, People can be groomed or persuaded into sexual activity because they want or need something. This could be something money, drugs, a place to stay, or having your emotional needs for love and nurture met. This can happen online or in person. Threats, intimidation or violence can sometimes be used.
People sometimes don’t realise they are being exploited, and there might not be any payment or exchange. It could be something as simple as making that person feel special, or giving them positive attention when no-one else does.
The perpetrator usually has some kind of power over the person like their gender, being older, stronger, more intelligent, or having things like money or a flat. Or it might be because they know personal or private information that the young person doesn’t want to be shared.
Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) occurs when a person engages in sexual activity in exchange for money, goods or basic needs, for example, porn or selling sex as part of the wider sex industry.
If someone is under the age of 13, the law says they are too young to give consent to any sexual activity.
Sexual bullying and harassment
Sexual bullying and harassment is any unwanted sexual behaviour which makes a person feel upset, humiliated or intimidated.
Some examples of sexual bullying and harassment are:
- Unwanted sexual comments, e.g. catcalling/street harassment or calling someone sexual names
- Using words that refer to a person's sexuality as an insult, e.g. using the word ‘gay’ to mean something bad
- Using sexual words to make someone feel bad, like ‘slut or ‘slag’
- Making sexual ‘jokes’ or threats, e.g. rape jokes or sexual innuendos
- Gossiping about someone’s sex life either verbally, using graffiti or social media
- Unwanted physical contact such as deliberately brushing up against someone, groping/grabbing, or pulling at someone’s clothing
- Asking someone to send you nudes or sending unwanted sexual pictures to them
- Showing someone sexual pictures or videos without their consent
- Online harassment like inappropriate sexual or threatening comments on social media
Sometimes people feel like what they are going through isn’t serious enough for them to need help, but we know that sexual bullying can have a huge impact on people’s wellbeing. If someone is experiencing any of this we can support them here. Or visit this website for more information.