sexual violence bannerSexual violence

Sexual violence includes any form of sexual activity (involving physical contact, words, or photographs) that takes place without the other person’s full and informed consent. Rape and sexual assault are mostly carried out by someone known to the victim: a husband, boyfriend, friend, colleague or other family member.

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. If you are a man who has experienced sexual violence, visit our Support for Men page for further resources.

Sexual violence can include:

  • Pressuring or forcing someone to do something sexual
  • Touching someone sexually without their permission
  • Unwanted sexting – sending sexually explicit texts and images to someone without their consent
  • Unwanted sexual attention – for example ‘wolf-whistling’ and making sexualised comments about women’s bodies
  • Watching a sexual act take place without permission
  • Engaging in sexual acts with someone who is too drunk, or 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

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 it’s important to make sure your partner agrees to any sexual act every time.

  • Consent is showing or verbally communicating a clear ‘yes’ to your partner. If you’re not sure if someone is consenting, 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, 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’s 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

Approximately 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales alone every year

Ministry of Justice, Office for National Statistics, Home Office (2013) An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales

1 in 5 women aged 16-59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16

Ministry of Justice, Office for National Statistics, Home Office (2013) An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales

Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police

Ministry of Justice, Office for National Statistics, Home Office (2013) An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales

Approximately 90% of those who are raped knew the perpetrator prior to the offence

Ministry of Justice, Office for National Statistics, Home Office (2013) An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales

40% of teenage girls have been pressured into having sex

NSPCC and University of Bristol (2015) Safeguarding Teenage Intimate Relationships

Nearly one third of rape victims are girls under 16

Office for National Statistics (2016) Crime Survey Data 

There are lots of myths and misinformation about violence and abuse. It is important for us all to challenge excuses for abusive behaviour whenever we hear them. We all need to get the truth out there and work together to bring an end to abuse.

Myth 1: “Some women are just asking for it. If you dress a certain way you are 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 makes – it is against the law.

Myth 2: “Women who get themselves too drunk are asking for it”

Deciding to drink too much does not mean that a woman has also decided to have sex. Men who go out to get drunk do not face similar judgments about their behaviour and rarely do women take advantage of them sexually. Remember: having sex with someone who is too intoxicated to give full consent is rape.

Myth 3: “A rapist is someone who jumps out from a dark alley”

The majority of sexual assaults are carried out by someone a woman or girl knows and trusts, often in her own home. In approximately 90% of reported rapes, the victim knows their perpetrator prior to the incident.

Myth 4: “Men don’t get raped”

Although the majority of sexual violence is experienced by women, men are also raped and sexually assaulted. The impact of sexual violence on men is just as traumatic as it is for women. Refuge believes that all survivors of sexual violence deserve to be listened to, believed and have access to specialist support.

Myth 5: “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.

Myth 6: “Girls 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.

Myth 7: “Women lie about being raped all the time”

False rape allegations are very rare – less than 3% of reports are false. Almost 500,000 women are raped or sexually assaulted each year in England and Wales.

Myth 8: “Sometimes a man 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.

If you have just been raped or sexually assaulted, try to remember that you are not alone and you are not to blame for what has happened. Here are some simple steps you can take to help ensure your safety:

  • Find somewhere you feel safe
  • You might be in shock, so wrap up warm
  • Consider telling someone you trust about what happened. If you don’t feel comfortable telling anyone yet, you can call the 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Refuge and Women’s Aid, for support on 0808 2000 247
  • Call 999 if you require urgent medical attention

You might want to consider contacting a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC). SARCs provide support to victims of rape or sexual assault – including providing a confidential space for interviews, examinations and collecting evidence. Some may also offer counselling services. These services are available regardless of whether you feel you want to report to the police. Click here to find information on how to access your nearest Sexual Assault Referral Centre.

If you are considering reporting what happened, or simply want more information about your options, click here to visit the NHS Choices website.

Find out more about the specialist services Refuge provides victims of sexual violence here.