Preventing Sexual Violence
An Educational Toolkit for Health Care Professionals

What Is Sexual Violence?
How Do I Prevent It?
Overview of Web version




Defining Sexual Violence
Sexual violence refers to sexual activity where consent is not obtained or given freely. It is any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or 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.

How common is sexual violence?

  • About 1 out of 5 girls and 1 out of 10 boys will be sexually abused during their childhood.
  • Among high school students, 11% of girls and 4% of boys report having been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point in their lives.
  • Twenty percent to 25% of women in college experience an attempted or completed rape during college.
  • Abuse typically occurs within a long-term, ongoing relationship between the offender and victim; escalates over time; and lasts an average of 4 years.

Who is at risk for sexual violence?

  • Most children are abused by someone they know and trust, although boys are more likely than girls to be abused outside of the family.
  • In up to 50% of reported cases, offenders are adolescents.
  • Risk factors for being a victim of sexual violence include presence of a stepfather or other nonbiological father figure, lack of maternal education (did not complete high school), lack of emotional closeness to the mother, lack of physical affection from the father, family income less than $10,000 per year, and fewer than 3 friends in childhood.
  • Risk factors for perpetrating sexual violence include being male, having sexually aggressive friends, witnessing or experiencing violence as a child, drug or alcohol use, and exposure to social norms that support sexual violence.

What are the consequences of sexual violence?

  • Victims of sexual violence may have strained relationships with family, friends, and partners and lower likelihood of marriage.
  • Victims of sexual violence are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behavior and use drugs or alcohol, behaviors that increase vulnerability to future re-victimization.
  • Long-term physical consequences include pregnancy complications, headaches, back pain, and gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Psychological consequences include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and suicide.
  • Women who are sexually and physically abused are more likely to have sexually transmitted infections.
  • Rape results in more than 32,000 pregnancies annually.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Understanding Sexual Violence: Fact Sheet, 2011. Available at Accessed October 20, 2011.
  2. World Health Organization. World Report on Violence and Health. Krug EG, Dahlberg LL, Mercy JA, Zwi AB, Lozano R, eds. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2002. Available at
  3. World Health Organization. Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Against Women Fact Sheet, September 2011. Available at Accessed October 20, 2011.
  4. Advocates for Youth. Child Sexual Abuse II: A Risk Factor for HIV/STDs and Teen Pregnancy. Available at Accessed October 20, 2011.