What is the difference between abuse and sexual violence?

What is the difference between abuse and sexual violence?

When we talk about sexual abuse and sexual violence, both concepts are often confused because it is an act in which the integrity of a person is violated. Nevertheless, the facts are that they are two completely different issues, but they are still a crime punishable by law worldwide.

If we focus on statistics, reported by the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 billion children between the ages of 2 and 17, worldwide, have been victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, while, according to the BBC, one in five women and one in 71 men have suffered an act of rape.

But, if both are crimes that involve sexual offenses against a person, how do they differ? In this article we discuss the main differences between abuse and sexual violence, so that you can be aware of your surroundings and know when to report a case of this type.

 What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse refers to any act in which a person or minor is subjected to any act of sexual nature by an abuser, which is usually performed by force, but need not necessarily include sexual penetration.

It may involve improper touching, comments with a high sexual content against a person, touching their intimate parts, etc., which are usually carried out under threats to the victim, so that they do not say anything about what happened and keep it a secret.

Per the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, at least 40% of adolescent girls worldwide have experienced some form of sexual abuse at some stage in their lives.

The penalties for committing this crime depend on the country you are in, however, they are usually fines in less serious cases, but can also include prison sentences and even life imprisonment when the crime is committed against a child under 10 years.

In recent years, several cases of sexual abuse have been made public in different parts of the world, such as the case of the U.S. Olympic gymnasts, who denounced abuse by the former doctor of the U.S. gymnastics team.

However, it is also a fact that there are thousands of other cases of sexual abuse that are not reported to the authorities because of the fear that the abusers cause in the victims, threatening them with all kinds of intimidation so that they neither speak about it nor report it.

What is sexual violence?

Regarding sexual violence, this crime is closely related to the previous one, but it is much more serious and in some countries results in heavy criminal penalties. In this case we are not talking about inappropriate touching or comments, but directly about the act of non-consensual sexual penetration.

That is, when a person is subjected by force to sexual intercourse with a perpetrator, it is a rape. This act, as well, is usually perpetrated with physical violence, seriously affecting the victim’s health.

Globally, rape statistics are just as alarming as in the case of sexual abuse. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that between 10 and 30% of women between 15 and 49 years of age have had a forced first sexual experience.

At the same time, UN Women states that 70% of women in the world have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime.

This kind of crime carries legal sanctions that, depending on the country in which it is committed, may even involve the death penalty for the abuser, based on the seriousness of the specific case. In addition, more severe penalties are usually applied when the victim is a minor.

Differences between abuse and sexual violence

Now that we have talked a little about each subject and you understand the context in which both crimes may occur, here are the specific characteristics that make these two types of sexual assault different:

Sexual Abuse:

  •       Force or physical violence is not necessarily used against the victim.
  •       It may be through touching or comments with a high sexual content.
  •       It may not include sexual penetration, although there are cases in which it does.
  •       Penalties can range from fines to up to years in prison, depending on the legislation of the place where the offense is committed and the seriousness of the offense.

Sexual Violence:

  •       Force is used to obligating the victim to have sexual intercourse against their will.
  •       Sexual violence is defined as penetration, which may be oral, vaginal, or anal.
  •       The punishments are usually much more serious, leading to life imprisonment or death penalty, depending on the country in which the crime was committed.

While there are clear differences between the two crimes, both are abominable acts that can seriously affect the physical and mental health of the victim, especially when it comes to minors, who unfortunately are often the target of many abusers.

We are always called not to remain silent. If you have a story of abuse or sexual violence that you want to share and denounce, in the #YoDigoNoMás movement we are here to provide you with the help you need. Don’t let a sexual abuse act put an end to your dreams! Join the movement and together let’s raise our voice against sexual abuse in the world.