Sexual violence and consent

What is sexual violence?

The term "sexual violence" is an all-encompassing, non-legal term that is used to describe any kind of unwanted sexual activity that takes place without consent. 

Examples of sexual violence include:

  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Unwanted sexual images
  • Revenge porn
  • Making unwanted sexual comments or suggestions
  • Inappropriate touching
  • Indecent exposure or flashing
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Sex trafficking

Sexual violence can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, class, or background. If you have experience any kind of sexual violence, no matter where you were, what you were doing, what you were wearing, what you were saying, if you were drunk or under the influence of drugs, it was not your fault; you are not to blame.

If you have recently been sexually assaulted (within the past 10 days) you may want to attend the Sexual Assault Referral Centre. You can contact the centre on 0800 970 0372 any time 24/7. A Crisis Worker will listen to what has happened to you and explain how they can help and what options are available to you. You can visit the SARC whether you wish to make a report to the police or not. 

What is sexual consent?

Consent means making the choice to agree to a sexual act and having the freedom and capacity to make that choice. 

It is NOT consent if the person was:  

  • Unconscious, blacked out or asleep  
  • Pressured, manipulated or scared  
  • Too young or vulnerable to be able to make the choice 

Everyone has the right to not want sex or any other kind of sexual activity, and we also have the right to change our minds – just because we consented once doesn’t mean that consent will always apply in future. We should be free to make our own decisions about the type and frequency of the sexual activity that we want to participate in. 

Understanding what consent means really matters. Consent should always be clear; if there is any doubt you should always stop and ask - check out the pause, play, stop pages for some interactive information around consent.

Myths about sexual consent

There are many myths surrounding sexual violence, partly due to messages we receive from film, TV and the media. Here are some examples, and you can find more information online from Rape Crisis.

Myth: "Rape is committed by strangers."

Crime survey data suggests as many as 90% of victims knew their perpetrator.

Myth: "Many people make up false allegations."

Research shows only about 4% of rapes reported to the police are false, and the vast majority of victims never report it at all.

Myth: "If someone was sexually assaulted, then they would be left with physical injuries as evidence."

It's actually quite rare to be left with physical injuries. Sexual violence is often perpetrated using manipulation or coercion rather than physical force.

Myth: "Some women are just asking for it. If you dress a certain way you are putting yourself at risk."

A person has the right to wear whatever they like - they cannot be blamed for suffering a sexual assault, regardless of their appearance. Rape or sexual assault is never a person’s fault, it is a choice an abuser makes and it is against the law.

Myth: “Women who get themselves too drunk are asking for it.”

Deciding to drink too much does not mean that a person has also decided to have sex. Remember: having sex with someone who is too intoxicated to give full consent is rape.

Myth: “If two people have had sex with each other before, then it’s OK to have sex again.”

If a person is in a relationship with someone or has had sex with them before, this does not mean that they cannot be sexually assaulted or raped by that person. Consent must be given and received every time two people engage in sexual contact and never assumed.

Myth: “Girls might say no, but really they mean yes.”

No means no! If someone says no, or indicates through their actions that they don’t want to have sex, then they haven’t consented.

Myth: “Sometimes a man just gets carried away and can’t stop.”

Everyone is responsible for their own behaviour. Respecting someone means never forcing them to engage in a sexual act against their wishes.

Myth: “Men don’t get raped and women don’t commit sexual offences.”

A small number of women do perpetrate sexual violence. Often people who’ve been sexually assaulted or abused by a women are particularly fearful that they will not be believed or that their experiences won’t be considered ‘as bad’ as being raped by a man. Men are also raped and sexually assaulted. We believe all that survivors of sexual violence deserve specialist support.