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The problem

Domestic violence and sexual assault are so embedded in our society they can be hard to see. There is a culture of silence around these issues, one that compounds the shame felt by survivors of abuse, often rendering them—as well as the people who hurt them—invisible. It is crucial to stand against this facelessness by understanding just how many of us and how many people we know experience this abuse.

Women and men

  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men experience violence by their partners in their lifetimes
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually abused before the age of 18
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men are survivors of rape
  • 3 in 4 victims of intimate-partner homicide are gay men

College students

  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while they are college students
  • 2 in 3 acts of sexual assault involving college students are by repeat abusers
  • 4 in 10 LGBT college students have been forced to have sex against their will, twice the rate of heterosexual college students
  • 19 in 20 sexual assaults on college campuses go unreported

Children and teens

  • 4 in 10 victims of child abuse also report being exposed to domestic violence
  • 1 in 3 teens experience sexual or physical abuse or threats from a boyfriend or girlfriend each

  • 1 in 15 children are exposed to domestic violence every year. 90 percent of these children are eyewitnesses to the abuse.
  • 1 in 5 lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students report having been forced to have sexual intercourse

The challenge

Our collective inaction helps perpetuate domestic violence and sexual assault. The sheer scale of these harmful situations overwhelms. We feel frozen by anxiety. We often are unsure about what exactly constitutes abuse. We are uncertain about how to intervene in a situation that appears abusive, and unclear about what to do if we do intervene.


We can overcome this paralysis through education and a willingness to speak out, to examine our own attitudes and ask ourselves how we can do better and do more.

Take a few minutes to reflect

  • 2 in 3 incidents of sexual assault go unreported.
    Why do victims of sexual assault so often not speak up?


  • 9 in 10 Americans, when asked to list indicators of domestic violence and sexual assault, do not include repeated emotional, verbal abuse and controlling behaviors.
    Should harmful, manipulative behaviors be excused if they don’t cause physical harm?


  • 2 in 5 Americans, when asked to define domestic violence and sexual assault, do not include hitting, slapping or punching.
    Is a certain amount of physical violence in a relationship acceptable?

  • 1 in 3 college students who have experienced sexual assault do not identify themselves as having been victims of sexual assault.
    Do I attach certain stigmas to survivors of sexual assault?


  • 2 in 3 Americans say it is hard to determine if someone has been a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.
    How can I tell if a person has been abused?


  • 7 in 10 Americans say they will take action when they recognize domestic violence and sexual assault.
    If I was the victim of abuse, what would I want a bystander to do?

To see the sources for these statistics, click here.



What is domestic violence? What is sexual assault?

Domestic violence is not about violence, and sexual assault is not about sex. Both forms of abuse are primarily about power and control, and both often start in ways that we may not recognize as abuse. To get to the roots of domestic violence and sexual assault, we must understand each encompasses a wide variety of behaviors.

Domestic violence is:

  • Using violence.
  • Threatening violence.
  • Exerting strict control over financial resources, social interactions, or appearance.
  • Requiring constant contact, including excessive phone calls or texts.
  • Insulting a partner in front of other people.
  • Exhibiting extreme jealousy.
  • Instilling fear in a partner.
  • Isolating a partner from family and friends.

Sexual assault is:

  • Rape.
  • Unwanted penetration.
  • Incest.
  • Molestation of children.
  • Unwanted oral sex or stimulation.
  • Harassment.
  • Exposing or flashing.
  • Forcing a person to pose for sexually provocative pictures.
  • Unwanted fondling or touching outside or under clothing.
  • Forcing compliance through use or display of a weapon, physical battering or immobilization.

What is consent?

Sexual activity requires consent, which is defined as voluntary, positive agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity.

  • Consent to sexual activity can be communicated in a variety of ways, but in the absence of clear, positive agreement, one should presume that consent has not been given.
  • While verbal consent is not an absolute requirement for consensual sexual activity, verbal communication prior to engaging in sex helps to clarify consent. Communicating verbally before engaging in sexual activity is imperative. However potentially awkward it may seem, talking about your own and your partner’s sexual desires, needs and limitations provides a basis for a positive experience.

  • Consent must be clear and unambiguous for each participant at every stage of a sexual encounter. The absence of “no” should not be understood to mean there is consent.
  • A prior relationship does not indicate consent to future activity.
  • A person who is asleep or mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, is not capable of giving valid consent.

For bystanders

If I encounter a situation between other people that might be physically or sexually abusive, I should remember:

  • If a situation feels wrong to me, it probably is.
  • I shouldn’t just mind my own business. Whether it’s someone I know or a stranger I pass on my morning commute, I can stop abuse just by asking if everything is okay.
  • If I think something might be going on, I should say so. I will start by addressing it directly, letting both individuals know that what’s happening isn’t right. I will reassure the mistreated person they don’t deserve these actions, and inform the abuser that this behavior is unacceptable and dangerous.

  • If I don’t feel comfortable calling out the abuser, I can still disrupt the situation just by talking, striking up a conversation about anything.
  • If I think it may be unsafe for me to act, I should stay back. I can still give support without physically intervening.
  • If I don’t feel safe enough to actually intervene, even standing around and letting the individuals know I’m watching can help.
  • I can get out my cell phone and call for help.



Quick Escape