What is Sexual Violence and Domestic Violence?

Adia R. Louden MPH | Contributor
April 1, 2022
(5 mins read)
Sexual Health

This is an article about sexual and domestic violence against women. If this topic is potentially triggering, or if you or someone you love is experiencing violence, consider getting support from the National Domestic Violence Hotline or the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Despite the continuous work of advocacy groups, researchers, and public health professionals, violence against women in the United States remains pervasive. Violence does not discriminate and affects women of every race, financial bracket, and zip code; however marginalized women  are particularly vulnerable. The results can be devastating for individuals, families, and communities. Nonetheless, hope is not lost and help is available. 

National Statistics

  • On average, approximately 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, per minute. During one year, this is more than 10 million women and men throughout the nation.
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking.
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • More than 40% of Black women have experienced intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes. And more than half of Black adult female homicides are related to intimate partner violence.

What is the difference between sexual and domestic violence?

When many people hear the word ‘domestic violence’, they think straight to romantic couples and/or physical abuse. Domestic violence, however, can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial, or sexual; and includes any violence that takes place within any close relationship within the confines of a household. This could be partners, ex-partners, or family members.

Additionally, domestic violence can involve a wide range of abusive and controlling behaviors, including threats, harassment, financial control, and reproductive coercion.

Sexual violence includes rape, child sexual abuse, sexual assault, prostitution, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, sexual bullying, and sexual abuse within partnerships. While women and girls experience sexual violence at significantly higher rates, men and boys are also affected by sexual violence.

Am I experiencing sexual or domestic violence?

There are many ways in which violence can manifest. Coupled with dopamine, oxytocin, and attachment styles, how someone processes abuse can be complex. The presence of violence can be very “hot and cold” and often start off small, with various events that gradually lowers your confidence and self-esteem. It can make you feel crazy (ie. gaslighting) or that no power belongs to you. Many, women in particular, have often described being made to see, think or do things the harm-doers way or changing their behavior in efforts to avoid making their abuser angry.

Here are signs that you may experience if violence is present. For a complete list, please visit Solace Women’s Aid

Sexual Violence

  • Forcing you to engage in unwanted sexual acts
  • Refusing to practice safe sex
  • Treating you like a sex object
  • Withholding sex and affection
  • Demanding sex
  • Criticizing/discounting feelings regarding sex
  • Making you wear clothes you haven’t chosen
  • Sexual name-calling

Domestic Violence

  • Physical abuse (ie. hitting, slapping, punching, throwing objects)
  • Financial abuse (ie. withholding/taking money)
  • Emotional abuse (ie. blame, withholding affection, verbal abuse)

How do I get help?

If violence is present in your life, the first step is acknowledging that you are and have never been the root of your abuse. You were never meant to be planted in harm’s way. But most importantly, no one knows your abuser like you do. So, think carefully through your situation and circumstances and do what is best for you, your safety, and the safety of your family if children are present. Consider creating a safety plan to get started. Next, consider researching and reaching out to local domestic/sexual violence service providers. Lastly, these are organizations, websites, and fact sheets that offer information about violence, getting help, and the magnitude of a problem that is widespread. 

Article written by : Adia R. Louden is a first-year doctoral student in Maternal and Child Health at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.