Sexual Violence: Understanding the Terms

Link to RAINN: "Types of Sexual Violence"
Link to RAINN: “Types of Sexual Violence”

“Sexual violence” means different things to different people in different parts of the world. Some legal systems consider it exclusively synonymous with rape. Others have expanded the term to include various other crimes.

Understanding the terms used for the types of sexual violence is important. There are people who have been raped, assaulted, violated in some way, but do not realize that what has happened to them was a criminal act. The blurring of terms and legal procedures invites confusion on the part of the victim, their family, and the court system.

How do you know it was rape?

Is what happened to me as serious as all that?

What happened to me?

Was she wrong to do that to me?

Was it my fault?

Are “assault” and “rape” always the same thing?

It was over a year before I understood that what had happened to me had been harassment-turned-sexual assault. Prior to that, I didn’t have a term and so I was confused. I didn’t know quite where to start in working through what had happened because I couldn’t put into words what had happened. I understood sexual assault and rape to be identical terms, all or nothing. What I later learned is that “sexual violence”, “assault”, “rape” are all unique terms – there can be overlap but each has its own definition. There is no “one-size-fits-all” sexual violence. Until I understood that, I was unable to see the event clearly. I could not understand that it had not been my fault.


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