What is Sexual Violence?

What is Sexual Violence?

Sexual violence is a wide-ranging term that encompasses actions or expressions that are sexual in nature and targets a person’s sexuality, gender identity, or expression.

Sexual violence crimes include unwanted sexual contact, attempts to obtain a sexual act, non-consensual sexual activity, unwanted sexual comments or advances and non-contact sexual experiences that happen without freely and enthusiastically given consent.

The act of committing a sexual violence crime is not about sex itself, but rather of control and power. The person who commits the sexual assault is always 100% responsible for the act of violence

Here is a glossary of key terms that will help you gain a better understanding for the language surrounding sexual violence:

Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault refers to any act of a sexual nature carried out in circumstances in which an individual has not freely agreed or consented. Sexual assault includes unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature from unwanted kissing and touching to forced sexual intercourse and/or oral sex.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment is any unwanted sexual communication or attention that is offensive, intimidating or humiliating, whether in verbal, written or visual form. This may include psychological violence, verbal abuse, manipulation and coercion.

Gender-based Violence (GBV)

Gender-based violence (GBV) involves the use and abuse of power and control over another person and is perpetrated against someone based on their gender identity, gender expression or perceived gender.  Violence against women and girls is one form of GBV.  It also has a disproportionate impacts on LGBTQ2 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangender, queer, questioning, intersex and two-spirit) and gender-non-conforming people.  GBV includes emotional and pscyhological violence, such as intentional misgendering, intentional “outing”, and use of gendered slurs, as well as physical, sexual, and structural or systemic violence. 

Interpersonal Violence

Interpersonal Violence can also be referred to as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and Domestic Violence, it is the abuse of power and control within a past or current relationship that endangers the well-being, security or survival of another person. Interpersonal Violence can occur in all types of relationships (e.g., dating, long-term, common-law, marriage, etc.). It can also occur between roommates and close friends.

IPV commonly starts off as emotional and/or verbal aggression or abuse, and can occasionally lead to acts of physical violence. An abusive partner will use different forms of violence to maintain control in their relationship or a sense of power over their partner.

Sexual Consent

Sexual Consent is to voluntary agree, free from coercion, to engage in sexual activity. Consent must be given whenever a sexual activity is proposed. When a person consents to a sexual activity, that consent will not automatically carry over to future sexual practices. Consent to one act does not mean agreeing to all sexual acts. Consent can be withdrawn at any time. A person is not capable of consenting to sexual activity when that person is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs, is unconscious, or where a person abuses a relationship of trust, power, or authority (e.g. between a professor and their student).


A tactic used to intimidate, trick or force someone to have sex without resorting to physical force. Some examples of coercion are:

  • Constantly putting pressure on someone and refusing to take no for an answer.
  • Implying sex is owed in return for financial favors, such as buying dinner, drinks or gifts.
  • Making someone feel guilty for not engaging in sex (“if you loved me you would…”).
  • Continually buying alcohol to inebriate the other person(s).
  • Being emotionally manipulative (“I can’t live without you…”).


Disclosure is the act of making new information known for the purpose of seeking support and/or information to a friend, family member, medical professional, or mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.


Reporting is the act of informing someone in authority of an incident for the purpose of initiating an investigative process.


Survivor/Victim are terms used to refer to a person who was sexually assaulted. In the 70’s and 80’s, advocates and activists in North America who worked to support those who have been sexually assaulted encouraged moving away from the term “victim” to the term “survivor”. Now most commonly used in North-America, the term “survivor” generally focuses on agency and resilience whereas “victim” refers to the person being victimized by someone else and focuses on elements outside of a person’s control.

Victim Blaming

Victim Blaming is the act of blaming the occurrence of sexual assault on the survivor instead of the person who committed the sexual assault.

To learn more about language surrounding Sexual Violence, read the full glossary of terms here: https://www.mcgill.ca/osvrse/about-sexual-violence/glossary

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