Sexual violence is any type of unwanted sexual contact, ranging from sexist attitudes and actions to rape and murder.
Sexual violence can include words and actions of a sexual nature against a person’s will.
A person may use
- manipulation, or
- coercion to commit sexual violence.
There is a social context that surrounds sexual violence. Social norms that
- condone violence,
- using power over others,
- traditional constructs of masculinity,
- the subjugation of women, and
- silence about violence and abuse contribute to the occurrence of sexual violence.
Oppression in all of its forms is among the root causes of sexual violence. Sexual violence is preventable through collaborations of community members at multiple levels of society—in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, faith settings, workplaces, and other settings. We all play a role in preventing sexual violence and establishing norms of respect, safety, equality, and helping others.
The experience that young people have with sexual violence can take on many forms including sexual harassment, pressure in dating relationships to engage in sexual behaviors, or pressure to send sexual pictures or texts.
Young people may be at higher risk of sexual violence.
- Most female victims of rape were first raped before the age of 25 (Black et al., 2011).
- Almost half were first raped before age 18 (Black et al., 2011).
- 30% were first raped between 11 and 17 years (Black et al., 2011).
Young people have the right to healthy, respectful relationships and the right to consent to sex with peers of the same age. Consent means both people agree with what they are doing together. Consent doesn’t have to be formal; it can be as simple as, “Are you okay with this?” and then waiting for a clear answer that signals “yes” verbally or non-verbally.
An age difference in a relationship creates unequal power which makes true consent impossible. In Pennsylvania, sexual intercourse with someone under the age of 16 when the other person is four or more years older is called statutory sexual assault. For example, a 13-year-old has sex with a 17-year-old or a 15-year-old has sex with a 19-year-old. A person under the age of 13 cannot give consent to anyone.
Society sends lots of messages about sex and sexuality. Many of these messages are violent or harmful. Sometimes alcohol is even shown as a way to ease worries around sex. Consent can’t happen when alcohol is involved; using alcohol to make someone have sex with you is sexual assault.
As caring adults in the lives of young people, you can counter these negative messages they receive about sex and sexuality from society. You can promote healthy sexuality by talking to the young people in your life and modeling healthy and respectful relationships. We must all work to create a space where young people feel safe and respected.