1 in 3 women will face sexual assault during their lifetime
This digital toolkit has been developed to raise awareness on sexual violence in public spaces and break the silence on how it impacts lives.
Hear the stories of brave women who’ve decided to speak out about their experiences
Find out more about your rights and the ways to report harassment or assault.
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DID You know?
Violence against women and girls can take many different forms
Rape is a type of sexual assault, usually involving sexual intercourse. Rape is usually perpetrated by men against boys, women, and girls; women are usually assaulted more often than boys and girls and usually by someone they know. Victims of rape can be severely traumatised and may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder; in addition to psychological harm resulting from the act, rape may cause physical injury, or have additional effects on the victim, such as acquiring of a sexually transmitted infection or becoming pregnant.
Violence against rape victims
Following a rape, a victim may face violence or threats of violence from the rapist, and, in many cultures, from the victim’s own family and relatives. Violence or intimidation of the victim may be perpetrated by the rapist or by friends and relatives of the rapist, as a way of preventing the victims from reporting the rape, of punishing them for reporting it, or of forcing them to withdraw the complaint; or it may be perpetrated by the relatives of the victim as a punishment for “bringing shame” to the family. This is especially the case in cultures where female virginity is highly valued and considered mandatory before marriage; in extreme cases, rape victims are killed in honour killings. Victims may also be forced by their families to marry the rapist in order to restore the family’s “honour”.
This is often known as spousal rape as is non-consensual sex perpetrated by the victim’s spouse. Once widely condoned or ignored by law, spousal rape is now repudiated by international conventions and increasingly criminalised. Still, in many countries, spousal rape either remains legal, or is illegal but widely tolerated and accepted as a husband’s prerogative. The criminalisation of marital rape is recent, having occurred during the past few decades. Traditional understanding and views of marriage, rape, sexuality, gender roles and self determination have started to be challenged in most Western countries during the 1960s and 1970s, which has led to the subsequent criminalisation of marital rape during the following decades.
Sexual harassment refers to abusive, uninvited and unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature, typically in the work/studying place, which may include intimidation, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours. It can be verbal or physical, and it is often perpetrated by a person in a position of authority against a subordinate. The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence defines sexual harassment as: “any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
Not all forms of gender violence are physical. Often it can involve words, where a perpetrator might make comments designed to emotionally manipulate his victim. Emotional abuse is an attack on personality rather than the body. If someone is altering their behaviour because they are frightened of how their partner will react, they are being abused. Control can also extend to the online realm – with tracking software used on smartphones or email and social media accounts hacked. Gas lighting is when someone exhibits abusive behaviour and then pretends it didn’t happen – or even switches blame on to the victim. It’s also common among psychological abusers. Emotional abuse happens over a sustained period of time, where the perpetrator repeatedly controls their victim.
Stalking is unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual or group toward another person, often manifested through persistent harassment, intimidation, or following/monitoring of the victim. Stalking is often understood as “course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear”. Although stalkers are frequently portrayed as being strangers, they are most often known people, such as former or current partners, friends, colleagues or acquaintances. Stalking by partners can be very dangerous, as sometimes it can escalate into severe violence, including murder.
Human trafficking refers to the acquisition of persons by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them. Trafficking in persons refers to the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation includes the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. Because of the illegal nature of trafficking, reliable data on its extent is very limited.
Women are more likely to be victimised by someone that they are intimate with. Domestic violence is therefore commonly called ‘intimate partner violence’. Such incidents tend not to be reported to police and thus many experts believe that the true magnitude of the problem is hard to estimate. Women are much more likely than men to be murdered by an intimate partner. According to WHO, globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner. Though this form of violence is often portrayed as an issue within the context of heterosexual relationships, it also occurs in lesbian relationships, daughter-mother relationships, roommate relationships and other domestic relationships involving two women. Violence against women in lesbian relationships is about as common as violence against women in heterosexual relationships.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but where there’s no medical reason for this to be done. It’s also known as “female circumcision” or “cutting”, and by other terms such as sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan, among others. Genital mutilation is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts. It is illegal in many countries and is considered child abuse. It’s very painful and can seriously harm the health of women and girls. It can also cause long-term problems with sex, childbirth and mental health.
Forced prostitution, also known as involuntary prostitution, is a form of sexual slavery where a person is coerced by another to engage in sexual activity for commercial gain. Child prostitution is always considered non-consensual and exploitative, as children, because of their age, are not legally able to consent. In most countries child prostitution is illegal irrespective of the child reaching a lower statutory age of consent. In many countries, child prostitution remains a very serious problem, and numerous tourists from the Western World travel to these countries to engage in child sex tourism. Thailand, Cambodia, India, Brazil and Mexico have been identified as leading hotspots of child sexual exploitation.
The custom of dowry, which is common in South Asia, especially in India, is the trigger of many forms of violence against women. Bride burning is a form of violence against women in which a bride is killed at home by her husband or husband’s family due to his dissatisfaction over the dowry provided by her family. Dowry death refers to the phenomenon of women and girls being killed or committing suicide due to disputes regarding dowry. Dowry violence is common in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. In India, in 2011 alone, the National Crime Records Bureau reported 8,618 dowry deaths, while unofficial figures suggest the numbers to be at least three times higher.
There are many different forms of financial control, including someone taking their partner’s money, stopping them from working, placing all the bills or debts in their name, or monitoring how they spend money. Financial abuse seldom happens in isolation: in most cases perpetrators use other abusive behaviours to threaten and reinforce the financial abuse. Financial abuse can leave women with no money for basic essentials such as food and clothing. It can leave them without access to their own bank accounts, with no access to any independent income and with debts that have been built up by abusive partners set against their names. Even when a survivor has left the home, financial control can still be exerted by the abuser with regard to child maintenance.
A forced marriage is a marriage in which one or both of the parties is married against their will. Forced marriages are common in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The customs of bride price and dowry, that exist in many parts of the world, contribute to this practice. A forced marriage is also often the result of a dispute between families, where the dispute is ‘resolved’ by giving a female from one family to the other. The custom of bride kidnapping continues to exist in some Central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and the Caucasus, or parts of Africa, especially Ethiopia. A girl or a woman is abducted by the would be groom, who is often helped by his friends. The victim is often raped by the would be groom, after which he may try to negotiate a bride price with the village elders to legitimise the marriage