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What is Sexual Violence?

The term "sexual violence" is an all-encompassing, non-legal term that refers to range of sexual crimes including sexual assault, rape, childhood sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, sexual bullying and stalking. Sexual violence does not have to be a ‘violent act’, however it is a violation of someone’s right to fully consent to sexual activity/contact. Please see our section on ‘consent’ to find out more about what consent is.

Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse is when a child or young person under the age of 18 is forced or coerced into taking part in sexual activities. This can be broken down into contact and non-contact abuse.

Contact abuse is when physical contact has taken place. This could include:

  • Sexual touching of any part of a child’s body (if the child is clothed or not)
  • Forcing a child to touch another person’s genitals
  • Penetration of a child’s vagina, anus or mouth with a body part or object

Non-contact abuse involves non-touching activities, which could include:

  • Online abuse including making, viewing or distributing child abuse images
  • Showing pornography to a child
  • Failing to prevent a child being exposed to sexual activities
  • Grooming
  • Meeting a child after grooming them with the intent of abusing
  • Persuading/manipulating a child into performing sexual acts over the internet
  • Forcing or encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts
  • Flashing
  • Sexually exploiting a child for money, power or status (see next section on child sexual exploitation)

You can see Rape Crisis Scotland's leaflet for people affected by Childhood Sexual Abuse here.

Child Sexual Exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is child sexual abuse, it happens when a child or young person under the age of 18 is forced, manipulated, coerced or encouraged to take part in sexual activity in exchange for something such as gifts, alcohol, money or affection.

  • Often CSE seems like a normal relationship or friendship at the start.
  • Like child sexual abuse, CSE can happen directly in person or online, and can include contact and non-contact activity.
  • Sometimes the sexual activity can appear consensual, however it is still abuse. See the following section on consent for more information.
  • The perpetrators of CSE may be in groups or individuals, young people or adults, male or female.
  • Regardless of who the perpetrators are, there will be a power imbalance in favour of the abuser.
  • The abuse can be opportunistic or organised, a one-off incident or part of a series of abuse.

Rape and sexual assault

Sexual assault involves any sexual act which a person does not consent to, or is forced or coerced into. Please see the section on consent for more information on what we mean when we talk about consent.

  • Rape is a sexual assault involving penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth by a penis.
  • Other forms of sexual assault include groping, forced kissing, sexual touching (if you are clothed or not) and skirt lifting.

You can see Rape Crisis Scotland's leaflet on Rape & Sexual Assault here.

You can see Rape Crisis Scotland's leaflet 'Drug-assisted sexual violence' here.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can include: someone making degrading, abusive remarks or gestures (usually based on a person’s sexuality or gender); being leered or stared at; being subjected to sexual jokes and sexual propositions; having to listen to comments about personal sexual activity or sexual preference; and, experiencing unwanted touching and bodily contact. Although sexual harassment happens everywhere, it is very common at work, or in educational settings, which can make it especially distressing and difficult to deal with. This can also include:

  • Using words that refer to a person's sexuality as an insult like using the word ‘gay’ as something bad
  • Using sexual words to make someone feel bad like ‘slut or ‘slag’
  • Making threats or jokes about something serious like rape
  • Gossiping about someone’s sex life either verbally, using graffiti or using social media
  • Asking someone to send you a naked picture of herself/himself or sending unwanted sexual pictures to them
  • Showing someone sexual pictures or videos

You will find a leaflet for anyone experiencing Sexual harassment or violence in the workplace here.


Stalking can be perpetrated by someone who is known to you or by a total stranger. It involves the unwanted attention and behaviours of one or more people towards another person, causing them to experience fear and alarm. While in isolation some of the behaviours may not appear alarming, collectively these actions can become threatening.

Stalking can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Following
  • Unwanted contact through phone calls, emails, text messages or letters.
  • Sending unsolicited gifts
  • Standing outside the home/workplace/school/any other place that the person who is being stalked goes
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Verbally abusing or humiliating publicly
  • Property damage
  • Threats against the person, or their loved ones

You can see Rape Crisis Scotland's leaflet on Stalking here.

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