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Sexual Violence: Definitions

Sexual violence is defined as a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent. Sexual violence includes:

  • Completed or attempted forced penetration of a victim
    Includes unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal insertion through use of physical force or threats to bring physical harm toward or against the victim.
  • Completed or attempted alcohol or drug-facilitated penetration of a victim
    Includes unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal insertion when the victim was unable to consent because he or she was too intoxicated (e.g., unconscious, 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 someone
    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.
  • Completed or attempted alcohol or drug-facilitated acts in which a victim is made to penetrate someone
    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 too intoxicated (e.g., unconscious, or lack of awareness) through voluntary or involuntary use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Nonphysically forced penetration which occurs after a person is pressured to consent or submit to being penetrated
    Includes being worn down by someone who repeatedly asked for sex or showed they were unhappy; having someone threaten to end a relationship or spread rumors; and sexual pressure by misuse of influence or authority.
  • Unwanted sexual contact
    Includes 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. Unwanted sexual contact also includes making a victim touch the perpetrator. Unwanted sexual contact can be referred to as “sexual harassment” in some contexts, such as a school or workplace.
  • Noncontact unwanted sexual experiences
    Includes unwanted sexual attention that does not involve physical contact. Some examples are verbal sexual harassment (e.g., making sexual comments) or unwanted exposure to pornography. This occurs without a person’s consent and sometimes, 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.

Why Is a Consistent Definition Important?

A consistent definition is needed to monitor the prevalence of sexual violence and examine trends over time. A consistent definition also 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 and perpetration in a uniform manner.

Reference

Basile KC, Smith SG, Breiding MJ, Black MC, Mahendra RR. Sexual Violence Surveillance: Uniform Definitions and Recommended Data Elements, Version 2.0 [2.01MB, 136Pages, 508]. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2014.

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