Rape and sexual assault | ActionAid UK

Rape and sexual assault

Rape definition

Rape is the non-consensual penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth with a penis or other body part – or non-consensual penetration of the vagina or anus with an object.

Sexual assault is any form of non-consensual sexual contact that does not result in or include penetration. Examples include: attempted rape, as well as unwanted kissing, fondling, or touching of genitalia and buttocks.2

Rape statistics

150 million
The World Health Organisation estimates that 150 million girls are sexually assaulted every year.3

One in 10
One in 10 girls under 20 (120 million) have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.4

10 million
An estimated 10 million children are involved in child prostitution around the world.5

Survivors of child sexual abuse

UNICEF estimates that around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.6

Boys experience sexual violence too, but to a far lesser extent than girls, UNICEF studies show.7

By far the most common perpetrators of sexual violence against girls are intimate partners. In many countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, this is normalised and legitimised by child marriage – a socially accepted form of sexual violence, exploitation and abuse against girls. If the perpetrator had had sex with the girl prior to the ‘marriage’ taking place, it would be regarded as rape.

Experiences of sexual violence in childhood hinder all aspects of development: physical, psychological/emotional and social.

Apart from the physical injuries that can result, sexual abuse of children is associated with a wide array of mental health consequences and adverse behavioural outcomes in adulthood.8 The psychological impact can be severe due to the intense shame, secrecy and stigma that tend to accompany it.

It can lead to early pregnancy (in cases of rape) as well as greater risks of experiencing domestic violence by intimate partners.9

Rape and sexual assault of women and girls by non-intimate partners is also rife – such as by an uncle, neighbour, or stranger. In some areas where ActionAid works in Kenya, for example, girls as young as two years old have been raped, often by family members, with devastating consequences.

ActionAid supports local community groups to raise awareness about rape and sexual violence and prepare family members to know what to do.

Sexual violence in humanitarian crises

Violence against women and girls increases during all emergencies. Throughout all humanitarian crises, whether an earthquake, a drought or a conflict, many forms of violence against women and girls take place at an increased rate.

Displacement causes disruption and movement, and former systems which would have protected women may have broken down.

In the early phases of an emergency, sexual violence is the most common form of violence recorded. As the crises moves on, other forms of violence – such as domestic violence and child marriage – may also increase.  

Rape as a weapon of war

In 2008, General Patrick Cammaert, a former deputy Force Commander of the United Nations Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) stated that:

It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in contemporary conflicts.”11

He said that the sexual violence he witnessed in Eastern Congo was among the worst atrocities he had ever seen in over thirty years of military service. Since 2008, humanitarian practitioners have started to understand that these human rights atrocities go beyond women – and affect the entire population.

Throughout history, women and girls have been targeted with rape and sexual violence at the hands of military and rebel forces as a weapon of war – from the 1994 Rwandan genocide where between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped12 to the current Rohingya refugee crisis where widespread rape of women and girls, and other atrocities, have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee Myanmar.

Rape is used as a weapon of war to either wipe out, disperse or forcibly relocate people from a particular community or ethnic group. When used to forcibly impregnate women, it is akin to ethnic cleansing.

ActionAid helps survivors of sexual violence through setting up women’s safe spaces where women can share their experiences and access vital information, psychosocial support, and medical referrals if needed.

We train women in leadership skills so that they are better equipped to lead their communities — in times of crisis and beyond, and support them in their vital role in peace movements at grassroots levels.

Corrective rape

Corrective rape is a form of homophobic violence where men rape women in order to punish and ‘cure’ them of their lesbianism. 

There is evidence of this form of violence occuring in countries such as South Africa (pdf), where in some cases an oppressive and mysoginistic culture has led to forced gender stereotypes, and a backlash of crimes against lesbian women, who are perceived as representing a direct and specific threat to the status quo. 

A report by South Africa’s Human Rights Commission expressed alarm at the “growing phenomenon of ‘corrective’ rape” in schools across the country, with young boys believing that lesbian girls need to be raped in order to ‘correct’ their sexual orientation.10

This brutal form of violence is often racialised. Research has shown that while 44% of white lesbians from South Africa’s Western Cape lived in fear of sexual assault, 86% of their black counterparts felt the same.11

Together with partner organisations in South Africa and around the world, ActionAid works to an end to corrective rape, support survivors and pressure governments to hold the perpetrators of violence to justice

  • 10. “Report of the Public Hearing on School-based violence” (2008), South African human rights commission P9
  • 11. “Levels of Empowerment Among LGBT People in the Western Cape, South Africa”, (2006) Triangle Project & UCAP, P30

Have you been affected by rape?

If you or anyone you know has experienced rape, there are services that can help. You don’t have to report the assault to the police if you don’t want to. 

These services may be able to help you: 

Rape Crisis – 0808 802 9999 
A free national helpline for women and girls who have experienced abuse, rape and all forms of sexual violence.

24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline - 0808 2000 247 
A 24-hour national service for women experiencing domestic violence, as well as for their their family, friends, colleagues and others calling on their behalf.

Galop, the LGBT+ anti-violence charity 
Support for LGTB+ women, men and non-binary people who have experienced hate crime, sexual violence or domestic abuse. They also have a dedicated service for trans people.

The Survivors Trust  
Support for all survivors of rape, sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse, no matter how long ago it happened.

Childline - 0800 1111 
Free help and advice to anyone under the age of 19.

Footnotes

Page updated 28 November 2019