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Defining Sexual Violence

Using a consistent definition of sexual violence helps us track trends, understand risks, and inform prevention strategies. Valuable research about the issue and successful prevention can be strengthened through common terminology and a shared understanding of the problem.

Sexual violence refers to any sexual act where consent is not obtained or freely given. This form of violence can include a completed or attempted sexual act, such as rape or unwanted touching. Sexual violence also includes acts that do not have physical contact between the victim and the perpetrator, such as verbal sexual harassment, threatened violence, or exhibitionism.

Many times, the person committing the sexual violence is someone the victim knows. This might be a family member, friend, coworker, neighbor, or casual acquaintance.

Sexual violence is a public health problem, and we must work together to prevent it. To learn more about the issue and find CDC’s definition for sexual violence, please visit CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention website.