Sexual violence


Apart from intimate-partner violence, the term of "sexual violence" refers to all forms of violence perpetrated against women by a family member, friend, acquaintance, neighbour, colleague or unknown individual. The term covers rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, incest, trafficking, sexual exploitation and any other forms of sexual abuse.

It is difficult to estimate precisely the frequency of sexual violence since in many communities, sexual violence remains a subject of deep shame for women and their families and is often unreported. For instance, rape statistics from police reports are notoriously unreliable due to the extensive lack of formally registered complaints.

Key figure

  • In the US, it is estimated that one out of five young women is a victim of sexual assault during her university studies. [Source: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, 2014

Focus on the American continent

In the United States, the Violence Against Women Act was enacted in 1994. The US Department of Justice has its own Office on Violence against Women dedicated to fighting violence against women in general and sexual violence, specifically.

In Brazil, victims of sexual violence are also protected by the law. In 2005, the national Criminal Code was reinforced with a number of legal provisions against perpetrators (e.g. elimination of the possibility for a perpetrator of sexual violence to evade criminal prosecution by marrying his victim).

In 2009, Argentina adopted a law on “Integral Protection to Prevent, Punish, and Eradicate Violence Against Women”, and has now set up special law enforcement units dedicated to women victims.

In spite of these legal measures, sexual violence remains a major problem on the American continent. According to a survey conducted by the US Department of Justice, every two minutes a person becomes a victim of sexual assault in the country. Across the entire continent, health and police professionals are still insufficiently informed about care needed for women victims or unaware of the risk of repeat victimisation. A number of factors contribute to the growth of sexual violence on the American continent: high crime rates, social standards that promote a sense of male superiority, especially in Latin America, etc. This phenomenon also affects US college campuses to a large extent: it is estimated that in the US one out of five young women will be a victim of sexual assault during her university studies. Many avenues for progress are possible, however: raising men’s awareness, raising general public awareness via campaigns and prevention initiatives, development of training for healthcare and police professionals, support to shelters, care to women victims, etc.

Key dates

6 February

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation 

8 March

International Women’s Day (UN)              


Sexual Awareness month

11 October

International Day of the Girl Child


25 November

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

10 december

Human Rights Day


NGO contacts

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