The Impacts of Sexual Violence

There are many ways sexual violence affects all of us.

Sexual violence impacts all individuals, families, and communities – either directly or indirectly.

The individual, interpersonal, and societal impacts of sexual violence are consistently minimized and consequently overlooked. Sexual violence deeply affects those who have experienced it, their families, friends, partners, and anyone who cares for them. The impacts of sexual violence are complex and multi-faceted. Effectively responding to, and preventing sexual violence, requires a strong understanding of its far-reaching impacts.

Impact on Survivors

The impact of sexual violence on survivors can vary greatly, not only from person to person, but also throughout a survivor’s lifetime. Traumatic experiences do not occur in isolation, they are embedded within the context of a survivor’s life – against the backdrop of varied experiences of support and adversity.

Survivors of sexual violence can experience a range of physical, emotional, and psychological short- and long-term impacts. Traumatic experiences can shift a person’s sense of safety, trust, self-esteem, intimacy, and control which can continue to impact all aspects of a survivor’s life long after the abuse has stopped. Trauma is life-altering. But people can integrate their experiences of trauma and find safety, stability, healing, and growth.

Traumatic experiences do not occur in isolation, they are embedded within the context of a survivor’s life – against the backdrop of varied experiences of support and adversity

Impact on Support People

Given the prevalence of sexual violence, it is likely that anyone who has not personally experienced sexual violence knows and cares for someone who has. Friends, family members, partners, and support people also experience considerable distress when someone they care about is sexually abused, assaulted, or harassed. Feelings of devastation, shock, rage, and confusion can surface. Support people often struggle with feelings of helplessness – wishing that they could have done something to protect their loved one or wishing they could ease their pain after the fact, while also feeling unsure about what to do or how to help.

When survivors are not believed or are made to feel like they are in some way to blame, sexual violence has the power to fracture social connections and family supports. Survivors may withdraw or struggle with trust and connection. However, when survivors are believed, validated, and nurtured by their support people throughout the healing process, support networks and family bonds are strengthened.

Impact on Community and Society

Sexual violence is a threat to the well-being of communities. Sexual violence happens in all of our shared spaces – in homes, schools, and workplaces, on campuses, in locker rooms, in religious and cultural spaces, as well as in the places we gather and socialize.

When someone chooses to commit an act of sexual violence the costs to society are immense. When the prevalence of sexual violence in Canada is considered, and correlated to a number of resulting health and social issues, the conservative financial cost of this type of violence is easily calculated in the millions of dollars each year, if not, billions. The systems most impacted by sexual violence are health, social services, and justice. The direct costs of sexual assault are estimated to be more than $546 million a year in Canada1. When pain and suffering are calculated in, this number rises to $1.9 billion1.

Those impacted by sexual violence can find it difficult to participate in community and the loss of their contributions to society is immeasurable.

Sexual violence is a complex social issue. There are no simple solutions. Everyone has a role to play in ending sexual violence.