Myths & Facts
What is Sexual Violence:
Sexual Violence is the use of sexual actions and words that are unwanted by and/or
harmful to another person.
Some of these actions are defined as crimes by Minnesota statutes. Some
experiences of sexual violence are hurtful violations of personal boundaries but may
not rise to the level of a crime. However, that does not diminish the victim's
experience of being harmed.
What Causes Sexual Violence:
A related question to which most want the definitive answer is: What causes sexual
violence? As a coalition, we recognize that there are multiple causes - some related
to individual pathology of offenders, most related to a culture that in some ways
supports, condones or ignores sexually violent messages and/or behavior. Some call
this a "rape culture" and point to exploitive images of women and children in the
media, the status of women and children in our culture, and the assumption of
sexual availability of women, as examples of a "rape culture." While it is impossible
to agree on a single source for the cause of sexual violence, we can agree that this
is a multidimensional issue that requires response on several fronts.
Sometimes the terms sexual abuse and sexual assault are used interchangeably
with sexual violence. Generally, sexual abuse refers to the repeated sexual violation
of a child by a family member or other. Sexual assault is the term most commonly
used in Minnesota in reference to those instances that are called "rape." Sexual
assault or abuse (criminal sexual conduct) is defined by Minnesota law.
Some Key Terms:
Consent: Free and active agreement, given equally by both partners, to engage in a
specific sexual activity. Giving in is not the same as giving consent! Consent is not
present when either partner:
Force: Minnesota statute defines force as the threat of bodily harm which causes
the individual to reasonably believe that the threat could be carried out immediately,
or the infliction of bodily harm, either of which cause the individual to submit to
unwanted sexual behavior.
- Fears the consequences of not consenting (including use of force)
- Feels threatened or intimidated
- Fears being "outed"
- Is coerced
- Says no, either verbally or physically (e.g., crying, kicking or pushing away)
- Has communication barriers that prevent the person from understanding what is
- being said.
- Has differing abilities that prevent the person from making an informed choice
- Is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs
- Lacks full knowledge or information of what is happening
- Is not an active participant in the activity
- Is under the legal age of consent
Statute defines coercion as words or circumstances that cause a person to fear that
the other will inflict bodily harm, or confine the person. It also means the use of
physical size or strength which causes the person to submit to an unwanted sexual
When talking about coercion, victims identify that they have been badgered, tricked,
threatened with being "outed," kept from eating, sleeping, leaving, using the
bathroom, or otherwise held hostage until they quit resisting. Not all coercive acts
fall under the statutory definition, but that does not deny a victim's right to identify
an experience as coercive. Giving in to coercion is not the same as giving consent!
Aspects of Sexual Violence
Sexual Assault: Unwanted, coerced and/or forced sexual penetration and/or touch is
defined in Minnesota Statute as varying degrees of Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC).
CSC in the first through fourth degrees are felonies in Minnesota; fifth degree CSC is
a gross misdemeanor. Penetration may be of the victim or forcing the victim to
penetrate the actor; penetration can be accomplished with either a body part or
other object. Similarly, contact can be sexual contact with the victim or forcing a
victim to touch the actor.
The terms sexual assault and sexual violence are often used interchangeably,
however, both terms are used to describe a wide variety of abuses. Rape is a term
that is often used to describe forced penetration but forced touch is also a serious
crime in Minnesota.
Date/Acquaintance Rape: Unwanted, coerced and/or forced sexual penetration that
occurs between people who are known to each other. This relationship may be a
dating relationship, a blind date or "hook up." They may know one another well or
only briefly. The issue is not identifying who the perpetrator is; it is rather identifying
how force or coercion is manifested.
Intimate Partner Sexual Violence (IPSV): When rape/sexual assault occurs between
two people who have or have had a consensual sexual relationship it is understood
as Intimate Partner Sexual Violence. Sometimes this is referred to as "marital
rape." Intimate partner sexual violence is often a part of relationships in which
other types of violence or battering are occurring. IPSV can occur in dating
relationships, marriages or long term gay or lesbian relationships, and is certainly
unlawful regardless of previous sexual contact.
Alcohol/Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault: When alcohol or other drugs are used to
subdue the victim in order to perpetrate a sexual attack. Many drugs have been
used for this purpose, some of the more common are Rohypnol, GHB and
Ketamine. However, it must be pointed out, that although these drugs are used for
sexual violence, alcohol remains the most common substance used to subdue
Child Sexual Abuse: Overt physical or emotional aggression is not always a part of
child sexual abuse. By definition, any sexual contact with a child is illegal.
Offenders who target children use a variety of strategies to engage a child: force,
trickery, bribery, blackmail. Child sexual abuse can be perpetrated by another child,
a young person, or an adult. Child sexual abuse includes;
Incest: Sexual abuse that is committed by one family member against another. Also
called familial sexual abuse, incest can be committed by a parent, sibling, other
family member, or an unrelated person living with, or treated as part of the family.
Stalking: Stalking is defined primarily by state statute and while statutes vary,
stalking is usually understood as a pattern of conduct that places a person in fear
for their safety. The term "stalking" is commonly used to describe patterns of
behaviors or acts used by a person to harass, threaten, or intimidate another. The
variety of behaviors displayed by stalkers is limited only by the creativity of the
Pornography: Sexually graphic material that combines sex with violence,
mistreatment, humiliation, or abuse. This includes the making of pornography when
it involves violence, bribery and coercion, even if none is depicted. There is not
agreement among those who are working to end sexual violence that pornography
is automatically and by nature abusive. Expressions of sexuality in our culture are
often targeted, misunderstood, and demonized. Child pornography is any sexually
graphic material or any material produced for the purpose of sexual arousal that
depicts children, and is always unlawful.
Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Paying someone else for sexual activities, or for
sexually graphic materials or behaviors. Some forms of commercial sexual
exploitation include: stripping, prostitution, nude bars, live sex shows, peep shows,
Professional Sexual Exploitation: Inappropriate use of sexual actions and words by
professionals and volunteers within a helping context. Any sexual interaction
between helping professionals and clients is sexual violation (even if the victim sees
it as consensual.) Helping professionals are bound ethically and/or legally to abstain
from sexual interaction with clients, patients, and others they serve. Helping
professions can include counseling, psychology, social work, therapy, health care,
clergy, law, victim advocacy, education, and public health.
Female Genital Mutilation: Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the term used to
refer to the removal of part, or all, of the female genitalia. The most severe form is
infibulation. The procedure consists of clitoridectomy (where all, or part of, the
clitoris is removed), excision (removal of all, or part of, the labia minora), and
cutting of the labia majora to create raw surfaces, which are then stitched or held
together in order to form a cover over the vagina when they heal. A small hole is left
to allow urine and menstrual blood to escape. The vast majority (85%) of genital
mutilations performed in Africa consist of clitoridectomy or excision. The least
radical procedure consists of the removal of the clitoral hood. While this may be an
accepted practice in some cultures, it is illegal in the State of Minnesota.
Systematic Sexual Abuse: This is an organized form of sexual abuse, frequently
involving numerous perpetrators and victims and used to control, condition, of
"initiate" victims. This type of ritualized abuse may be repeated frequently and be
perpetrated under the guise of a spiritual expression or initiation into a gang or
other secret or selective group.
Sexual Harassment: Unwanted verbal sexual advances, requests for sexual favors
and other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment
can occur in the workplace, school and other settings (such as public transportation,
shopping malls, community events, social gatherings, places of worship, health care
facilities) and can create an intimidating or hostile environment for the victim. The
perception of the victim, not the intent of the harasser, determines whether
particular words or actions are harassing.
Bullying: Bullying includes a wide variety of behaviors, but all involve a person or
group repeatedly trying to harm someone who is weaker or more vulnerable. Much
of bullying that occurs in elementary, middle, and high schools is related to sexuality,
race, and gender issues. Bullying and sexual harassment often go hand-in-hand in
Common Reactions to Sexual Violence: Sexual assault of any kind can result in a
host of reactions - some are immediate, some are long term. The variety of
reactions may depend on the victim's previous life experience, the kind of force used,
the relationship of the offender of the victim, the age of the victim, etc. Most
victims experience levels of fear, anger, self-blame, depression and anxiety that can
be exhibited both emotionally and physically. Difficulty sleeping and concentrating,
nightmares, flashbacks, emotional numbing are all common reactions to sexual