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Sexual Violence: Definitions

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CDC Updates Sexual Violence Surveillance: Uniform Definitions and Recommended Data Elements

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Sexual violence is defined as a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent.  Sexual violence is divided into the following types:
  • Completed or attempted forced penetration of a victim
  • Completed or attempted alcohol/drug-facilitated penetration of a victim
  • Completed or attempted forced acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else
  • Completed or attempted alcohol/drug-facilitated acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else
  • Non-physically forced penetration which occurs after a person is pressured verbally or through intimidation or misuse of authority to consent or acquiesce
  • Unwanted sexual contact
  • Non-contact unwanted sexual experiences

Completed or attempted forced penetration of a victim ─ includes completed or attempted unwanted vaginal (for women), oral, or anal insertion through use of physical force or threats to bring physical harm toward or against the victim. Examples include

  • Pinning the victim's arms
  • Using one's body weight to prevent movement or escape
  • Use of a weapon or threats of weapon use
  • Assaulting the victim

Completed or attempted alcohol or drug-facilitated penetration of a victim ─ includes completed or attempted unwanted vaginal (for women), oral, or anal insertion when the victim was unable to consent because he or she was too intoxicated (e.g., incapacitation, lack of consciousness, or lack of awareness) through voluntary or involuntary use of alcohol or drugs.

Completed or attempted forced acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else ─ includes situations when the victim was made, or there was an attempt to make the victim, sexually penetrate a perpetrator or someone else without the victim’s consent because the victim was physically forced or threatened with physical harm. Examples include

  • Pinning the victim's arms
  • Using one's body weight to prevent movement or escape
  • Use of a weapon or threats of weapon use
  • Assaulting the victim

Completed or attempted alcohol or drug-facilitated acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else ─ includes situations when the victim was made, or there was an attempt to make the victim, sexually penetrate a perpetrator or someone else without the victim’s consent because the victim was unable to consent because he or she was too intoxicated (e.g., incapacitation, lack of consciousness, or lack of awareness) through voluntary or involuntary use of alcohol or drugs.

Nonphysically forced penetration which occurs after a person is pressured verbally, or through intimidation or misuse of authority, to consent or submit to being penetrated - examples include being worn down by someone who repeatedly asked for sex or showed they were unhappy; feeling pressured by being lied to, or being told promises that were untrue; having someone threaten to end a relationship or spread rumors; and sexual pressure by use of influence or authority. 

Unwanted sexual contact – intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person without his or her consent, or of a person who is unable to consent or refuse. Unwanted sexual contact can be perpetrated against a person or by making a person touch the perpetrator. Unwanted sexual contact could be referred to as “sexual harassment” in some contexts, such as a school or workplace.

Noncontact unwanted sexual experiences - does not include physical contact of a sexual nature between the perpetrator and the victim. This occurs against a person without his or her consent, or against a person who is unable to consent or refuse. Some acts of non-contact unwanted sexual experiences occur without the victim’s knowledge. This type of sexual violence can occur in many different settings, such as school, the workplace, in public, or through technology. Examples include unwanted exposure to pornography or verbal sexual harassment (e.g., making sexual comments).

Why Is a Consistent Definition Important?

A consistent definition is needed to monitor the prevalence of sexual violence and examine trends over time. In addition, a consistent definition helps in determining the magnitude of sexual violence and aids in comparing the problem across jurisdictions. Consistency allows researchers to measure risk and protective factors for victimization in a uniform manner. This ultimately informs prevention and intervention efforts.

Reference

Basile KC, Smith SG, Breiding MJ, Black MC, Mahendra RR. Sexual Violence Surveillance: Uniform Definitions and Recommended Data Elements, Version 2.0. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2014.


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