Sexual Violence

What is Sexual Violence?

Sexual violence consists of a range of sexual acts against a child, including but not limited to child sexual abuse, incest, rape, sexual violence in the context of dating/intimate relationships, sexual exploitation, online sexual abuse, and non-contact sexual abuse.

Sexual violence against children can occur in any setting. This includes situations where a child is sexually abused by a relative or carer at home; made to sell sex in exchange for food, cash or favours; raped or sexually molested on the way to or at school; abused by someone in a position of trust like a coach or community leader; groomed online and lured into sex acts, exhibitionism or producing sexual images; exploited by offenders who have travelled for that purpose; trapped into sexual slavery by organized groups of child sex offenders; or raped by a combatant in the context of war.

Although sexual violence can occur anywhere, risks surge in emergency contexts. During armed conflict, natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies children are especially vulnerable to sexual violence – including conflict-related sexual violence, intimate partner violence and trafficking for sexual exploitation – as well as other forms of gender-based violence.

Children are victims of sexual abuse and exploitation online. There has been an increase in live-streaming of sexual abuse online, sexual extortion, and grooming. Children are also increasingly exposed to child sexual abuse material, and inappropriate content such as pornography, online.

Sexual violence results in severe physical, psychological and social harm. Child victims experience an increased risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, pain, illness, unwanted pregnancy, social isolation and psychological trauma. Some victims may resort to risky behaviours like substance abuse to cope with trauma.

Sexual violence against children is shrouded in silence and stigma, underpinned by harmful social norms and gender inequality. As a result, many victims never disclose their experiences or seek help. The reasons for this are varied but can include fear of retaliation, incrimination, guilt, shame, confusion, lack of confidence in the abilities or willingness of others to help, and lack of knowledge of available support services.

The Special Representative works with a wide range of partners to promote stronger action to end sexual violence against children and to advocate for: comprehensive legal frameworks to protect children, ensure accountability for offenders and ensure access to justice for victims; measures to combat social norms that perpetuate sexual violence; integrated, child-friendly services for victims; child-friendly complaint and reporting mechanisms; and education and awareness-raising measures.