What is sexual assault?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual violence as “any sexual act or an attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments, or advances, 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.” Sexual violence happens in all cultures with varying definitions of what constitutes sexual violence.

Sexual assault can include:

  • Any type of sexual contact with someone who cannot consent, such as someone who is underage (as defined by state laws), has an intellectual disability, or is passed out (such as from drugs or alcohol) or unable to respond (such as from sleeping)
  • Any type of sexual contact with someone who does not consent
  • Rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Sexual coercion
  • Sexual contact with a child
  • Fondling or unwanted touching above or under clothes

Sexual assault can also be verbal, visual, or non-contact. It is anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual activities or attention. Other examples can include:

  • Voyeurism, or peeping (when someone watches private sexual acts without consent)
  • Exhibitionism (when someone exposes himself or herself in public)
  • Sexual harassment or threats
  • Forcing someone to pose for sexual pictures
  • Sending someone unwanted texts or “sexts” (texting sexual photos or messages)

Victim Shaming

Post the act of sexual assault comes Victim Shaming (also known as victim blaming). This includes disbelieving the victim's story, minimizing the severity of the attack, and inappropriate post-assault treatment by medical personnel or other organizations. Secondary victimization is especially common in cases of drug-facilitated, acquaintance, military sexual trauma and statutory rape.


Sexual assault victims experience stigmatization based on rape myths. A female rape victim is especially stigmatized in patrilineal cultures with strong customs and taboos regarding sex and sexuality. For example, a society may view a female rape victim (especially one who was previously a virgin) as "damaged". Victims in these cultures may suffer isolation, physical and psychological abuse, slut-shaming, public humiliation rituals, be disowned by friends and family, be prohibited from marrying, be divorced if already married, or even be killed. However, even in many developed countries, including some sectors of United States society, misogyny remains culturally ingrained.

One example of a sexist allegation against female victims of sexual assault is that wearing provocative clothing stimulates sexual aggression in men who believe that women wearing body-revealing clothes are actively trying to seduce a sexual partner. Such accusations against victims stem from the assumption that sexually revealing clothing conveys consent for sexual actions, irrespective of willful verbal consent.


Victim shaming has many adverse effects on the victim itself. The whole process then becomes more traumatizing and can lead to increased depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress for the victim. It may also prevent people from reporting the crime. Survivors of a crime may hesitate to report the issue, for fear of being blamed, judged, or not believed. This is often the case for people who have survived rape and other sexual assault, and some argue that victim-blaming has contributed to a
rape culture or a society in which people make excuses for the perpetrator instead of supporting the victim.

As a society, we should aim that Victim Blaming doesn't take place at all whether it is knowingly or unknowingly and the correct person is blamed for an act of sexual assault.


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