What is sexual violence?

Men need support too

What is sexual violence?

Sexual violence is any form of sexual activity that takes place without the other person’s full and informed consent. This includes physical contact, words, or photographs. Remember, the law says that a person only consents to sexual activity if she or he agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

Sexual violence can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, class, or background.

Research shows that the majority of sexual violence is experienced by women and girls, but men and boys can also be victims.

Nobody ‘deserves’ to be sexually assaulted or raped. It does not matter what you were doing, what you were wearing, or where you were. Sexual violence is never the victim’s fault; the fault lies solely with the perpetrator and there are no excuses or justifications for this behavior.

For more information, please see our ‘myths about sexual violence’ tab above.

Rape and sexual assault can be carried out by a stranger, but most often the perpetrator is someone known to the victim such as a husband, boyfriend, friend, acquaintance, colleague or other family member.

In the year ending September 2016, police recorded 112,021 sexual offences in England and Wales.

Sexual violence can include:

  • Pressuring or forcing someone to do something sexual
  • Touching someone sexually without their permission
  • Watching a sexual act take place without permission
  • Engaging in sexual acts with someone who is too intoxicated to give consent
  • Engaging in a sexual act with someone who is asleep or unconscious
  • Having sex with someone who cannot legally consent – for example, a boy or girl under the age of 16, or someone with disability who does not have the capacity to understand the situation
  • Making someone watch or appear in pornography against their will
  • Preventing someone from using contraception
  • Unwanted sexting – sending sexually explicit texts and images to someone without their consent
  • Unwanted sexual attention – for example ‘wolf-whistling’; making sexualised comments about women’s bodies


Sexual violence: the facts

An estimated 510,000 women and 138,000 men aged 16 to 59 experienced sexual assault in the last year, according to the year ending March 2017. (Sexual offences in England and Wales: year ending March 2017 – ONS website)

20% of women and 4% of men have experienced sexual assault since the age of 16. (Sexual offences in England and Wales: year ending March 2017 – ONS website)

Around 5 in 6 victims do not report their experiences to the police. (Sexual offences in England and Wales: year ending March 2017 – ONS website)

1 in 3 teenage girls in England has been pressured into doing something sexual by a partner (Reference – Safeguarding Teenage Intimate Relationships, 2015)

Support for men

Research shows that the majority of sexual violence is experienced by women and girls, but men and boys can also be victims.

Refuge understands that men may find it difficult to disclose that they have experienced violence or abuse. Some men report feeling embarrassed or ashamed, and may feel anxious when discussing their experiences.

At the Thames Valley service, our ISVAs are specially trained to work with all victims of domestic violence and will tailor the support they offer to their male clients’ individual needs.

Myths about sexual violence

Rape and sexual violence can be difficult to talk openly about. This means that there are lots of myths and confusion in society around rape and sexual assault, and this can make it difficult to make sense of your experience.


Here are some common myths:

“Some women are just asking for it – if you dress a certain way you’re putting yourself at risk”

Women have the right to wear whatever they like – they cannot be blamed for suffering a sexual assault, regardless of their appearance. Rape or sexual assault is never a woman’s fault. Assaulting a woman is a choice an abuser make – it is against the law.


“Women who drink too much are asking for it”

Deciding to drink alcohol does not mean that a woman has also decided to have sex. Men who go out to get drunk do not face similar judgements about their behaviour. Remember: having sex with someone who is too intoxicated to give full consent is rape.


“A rapist is someone who jumps out from a dark alley”

The majority of sexual assaults are carried out by someone known by the victim. Approximately 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence.


“Men don’t get raped”

Although the majority of sexual violence is experienced by women, men are also raped and sexually assaulted. Approximately 72,000 men have said they are a victim of a sexual offence, and approximately 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone each year (An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, 2013).


The impact of sexual violence on men is just as traumatic as it is for women. All survivors of sexual violence deserve to be listened to, believed and have access to specialist support.


“It can’t be rape if the person has already had consensual sex with the rapist”

Consent must be gained each and every time someone engages in a sexual activity.


“They might say no, but they really mean yes”

If someone says no, or indicates through their actions that they don’t want to have sex, then they haven’t consented and the decision to ignore their wishes becomes a sexual assault.


“Victims lie about being raped all the time”

False rape allegations are very rare. A Crown Prosecution Service review found that during a sixteen month period, only 0.6% of all prosecutions involving allegations of rape were for false allegations.


“Sometimes a guy just gets carried away and can’t stop”

Everyone is responsible for their own behaviour. Respecting someone means never forcing them to engage in a sexual act against their wishes.

What is consent?

When you’re having sex, or doing something intimate with another person, it’s important to be sure that they want to be doing it too – that they have consented. Even if you’re in a relationship with someone, you must make sure your partner agrees to any sexual act every time.

If you have experienced sexual activity you have not consented to, this is sexual violence.

Understanding consent is vital.

  • Consent is showing or verbally communicating a clear ‘yes’ to your partner. If you are not sure whether your partner has given consent, you should ask
  • To be able to consent, a person must have both the capacity to say yes and must understand what is happening and what they are agreeing to do
  • The absence of “no” doesn’t mean yes. Someone might have been pressured or frightened into doing something they don’t want to – this means they haven’t consented. If you are not sure if your partner is consenting, you should ask
  • Everyone has the right to say no to any kind of sexual activity, or to change their mind at any time before or during sex
  • It is also important to remember that there are some groups of people who cannot consent under law. If someone is not physically or mentally capable of making a decision to have sex – or they can’t understand what they’re agreeing to – they cannot give consent. For example, if someone is very drunk or intoxicated when they agree to sex, the law recognises that they don’t have the capacity to give ‘true’ consent
  • The age of consent in the UK is 16. Anyone below this age cannot legally consent

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