What is Sexual Violence?

Sexual violence is any sexual activity that is nonconsensual. There are many acts of sexual violence, including:

  • Unwanted sexual contact
  • Non-contact sexual experiences (e.g., verbal harassment, voyeurism)
  • Rape (including marital-, date-, and acquaintance-rape)
  • Incest
  • Verbal (non-physical) pressure that results in unwanted penetration (i.e.; sexual coercion)
  • Sexual assault/ sexual abuse
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Alcohol/Drug-assisted sexual assault
  • Virtual sexual harassment

Sexual violence is deeply rooted in our society in the form of social norms and patriarchal power dynamics.  The Sexual Violence Continuum shows the societal factors that contribute to sexual violence. It is important to remember that anyone can be a victim of sexual violence, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, ability, faith, socioeconomic status, and even marital status.

Sexual violence can affect every aspect of your life. It can cause both short-term and long-term health complications. This includes your physical and mental health (for more information, visit our “Sexual and Reproductive Health” tab). Beyond your health, sexual assault can change your sense of safety, your body’s ability to regulate stress, and your ability to maintain a job or continue schooling. Sexual violence can also make it harder for you to form healthy relationships, or to maintain your current relationships with partners, friends, and family. Sexual violence affects every survivor differently, and survivors find different ways to cope with their trauma. But do not worry- you are not alone on your healing journey. An advocate can help support you, whether that be with finding health care, learning healthier coping mechanisms, and providing you with a safe space to vent.

Male survivors of sexual violence:

An often-overlooked population of sexual assault survivors are male. Societal norms and gender roles lead many to believe that males cannot be victims of sexual assault, yet 1 in 6 men are survivors of sexual assault. Male survivors may find it harder to talk about their abuse due to the stereotypes and expectations placed on them to be ‘strong,’ ‘sex-driven,’ and ‘masculine’. This very valid fear of judgment from the community prevents many male survivors from seeking help.

Sexual assault can leave male survivors feeling insecure in their masculinity. It can also cause confusion about their sexual orientation.  Male survivors often feel a sense of shame or blame, especially if they experienced an erection or ejaculation during the assault (which is a natural bodily response and does NOT mean you gave consent to the perpetrator).

Being a male survivor of sexual assault does not mean you are ‘weak’ or ‘not man enough’, nor does it have anything to do with your sexual orientation. You had no control or choice in what occurred during the assault. Phoenix Project serves all genders and can provide support for male survivors of sexual violence, too.

For more information, or to connect with other male survivors, visit the following websites:

Emergency Care After a Sexual Assault

After experiencing a sexual assault, it can be a good idea to seek medical treatment regardless of the nature of the assault (i.e., forcible vs. coerced sexual assault). Just because you do not observe any injuries does not mean there are none. Sexual assaults can cause internal genitalia injuries, and when strangulation or “choking” occurs, the risk of fatal internal injuries increases significantly. There is also the possibility of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. All of these medical concerns can be assessed in a sexual assault forensic exam, also known as a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK) exam. Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFEs) are specially trained to conduct PERK exams and treat sexual assault survivors. SAFEs may offer prevention treatment for STIs and may recommend follow-up care as needed.  It is important to note that you are NOT required to report your sexual assault in order to receive a PERK exam.

In addition to assessing your health after the assault, PERK exams can also potentially provide evidence that can help in an investigation, if you choose to report. In order for there to be a chance of evidence-retrieval, PERK exams need to be completed as soon as possible after the assault—often no more than 72 hours after the assault. After 72 hours, it is likely that most, if not all, DNA-evidence will be gone through showering, toileting, and daily movement. However, do not let this discourage you from seeking medical care if you are concerned about your physical health.

PERK exams can be triggering for many survivors, so knowing what to expect and having a support person with you can make it a little less scary. An advocate can accompany you throughout the PERK exam and advocate for you to ensure you receive the medical care you seek. Remember that you always have the right to say no to any part of the exam that you do not wish to undergo, even after the procedure has already begun.

To learn more about PERK exams, read the materials provided below. You can also call Phoenix Project to speak with an advocate about PERK exams and emergency medical care.