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Sexual Abuse

What is sexual violence and abuse?

Sexual violence and abuse is any behaviour thought to be of a sexual nature which is unwanted and takes place without consent. Sexual violence and abuse can be physical, psychological, verbal or online. Any behaviour of a sexual nature that causes you distress is considered sexual violence or abuse.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) provides the best measure of victimisation and estimated that for the year ending March 2020 there were 773,000 adults aged 16 to 74 years who were victims of sexual assault (including attempts) in the last year, with almost four times as many female victims (618,000) as male victims (155,000).


What is consent?

Consenting to someone touching you in a sexual manner means agreeing to it by choice and having both the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

It is NOT consent if you or someone else was:

  • Asleep, unconscious, drunk, drugged or ‘on’ drugs.
  • Pressured, manipulated, tricked or scared into saying yes.
  • Too young or vulnerable to have the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

Consent can be withdrawn at any time, including during sex or a sexual act.  Just because someone consented to something before doesn’t mean they consented to it happening again.

If someone’s unsure whether the other person is giving their consent for something sexual, they should always check with them.

There is a helpful video about Consent here: Consent and a Cup of Tea 

What is sexual violence?

Sexual violence is the general term used to describe any kind of unwanted sexual act or activity, including rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse and many other aspects.

Sexual assault

Sexual assault happens when someone touches another person in a sexual manner without their consent. Or when someone makes another person take part in a sexual activity with them without that person’s consent. It includes unwanted kissing and sexual touching.


Rape is often described as unwanted or forced ‘sex’ – or ‘sex’ that happened without consent. But, sex can only happen when everyone consents.  Rape, on the other hand, is a form of sexual violence and a serious crime.

Sexual abuse

There are 2 types of sexual abuse – contact and non-contact abuse.  Sexual abuse can happen in person or online.

Contact abuse is where an abuser makes physical contact with a child. This includes:

  • sexual touching of any part of a child’s body, whether they’re clothed or not
  • using a body part or object to rape or penetrate a child
  • forcing a child to take part in sexual activities
  • making a child undress or touch someone else.

Contact abuse can include touching, kissing and oral sex – sexual abuse isn’t just penetrative.

Non-contact abuse is where a child is abused without being touched by the abuser. This can be in person or online and includes:

  • exposing or flashing
  • showing pornography
  • exposing a child to sexual acts
  • making them masturbate
  • enticing a child to make, view or share child abuse images or videos
  • making, viewing or distributing child abuse images or videos
  • forcing a child to take part in sexual activities or conversations online or through a smartphone
  • upskirting – often done without the victim’s knowedge.

Why does it happen?

Rape and sexual assault are crimes of violence and control that stem from a person’s determination to exercise power over another. Forcing someone to engage in non-consensual sexual activity is sexual assault, regardless of the way that person dresses or acts.

Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not an invitation for non-consensual sexual activity.  A person under the influence of drugs or alcohol does not cause others to assault him/her; others choose to take advantage of the situation and sexually assault him/her because he/she is in a vulnerable position.

Most sexual assaults and rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.  Among victims aged 18 to 29, two-thirds had a prior relationship with the offender.

Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows: a neighbour, friend, acquaintance, co-worker, classmate, spouse, partner or ex-partner.  Studies show that approximately 80% of women reporting sexual assaults knew their assailant.

How prevalent is it?

The Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year ending March 2021 showed that the police recorded 148,114 sexual offences, encompassing rape (55,696 cases) and sexual assault, and also sexual activity with children.

Rape and sexual violence are more common than most people realise and there is still a lack of clarity about the true extent of rape. However, figures from the British Crime Surveys show that at least 1 in 4 women and 1 in 30 men experience rape or a serious sexual assault at some point during their lives.

For more information

NSPCC | The UK children’s charity | NSPCC