Sexual violence

Due to problems with underreporting, sexual violence is one of the most difficult crimes to capture. An additional problem with sexual violence data is due to differences in language and definitions of the words “rape”, “sexual assault”, “sexual abuse”, and “sexual violence”. As a general rule, rape refers to any unwanted or forced penetration, while sexual assault refers to any unwanted or forced sexual touching (with or without penetration). Sexual violence and sexual abuse are umbrella terms and may encompass a range of behaviors from unwanted sexual language, text messages, or jokes (often referred to as sexual harassment) to attempted or completed rape. All of the behaviors along the continuum of sexual violence can lead to harmful physical, mental, and emotional health outcomes for victims.


The United States Department of Justice estimates that during the year 2003, 1 person over the age of 12 per every 1,000 experienced a rape or sexual assault. According to the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one is six women and one in 33 men will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime source. Sexual assault is of particular concern for young people, with nearly one-third of sexual assaults occurring before the age of 18 source. Rhode Island’s 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey finds that 5.34% of male high school students and 8.88% of female high school students report that they were physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to. These numbers are alarmingly high.

What you should do

  • Learn the facts about intimate partner violence and share them with others.
  • Speak out when you see others engaging in abusive behavior. It is your business. If you do not feel comfortable confronting someone for fear of safety, call the police (or tell an adult if you are a youth in a school setting).
  • If you think you might be in an abusive relationship or might be abusing someone, contact the Day One, the Sexual Assault & Trauma Resource Center of RI or the 24 hour/day Rhode Island Victims of Crime Helpline to get help dealing with this difficult situation.
  • Treat others with respect, regardless of their age, race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, or religion. Using words or engaging in actions that hurt others who are different from you leads to oppression, which is the basis for violence. Comments or behaviors that you might see as insignificant can create an environment where violence seems acceptable.
  • Think critically about the media. Images presented on television, in movies, in music, magazines, and advertising can have an impact on us all. When media reinforces gender, racial, or other stereotypes, this is also setting the stage for oppression and violence.

What we are doing

We partner with Day One, the Sexual Assault & Trauma Resource Center through the CDC’s Rape Prevention Education grant to provide rape prevention education in Rhode Island schools through initiatives such as the Your Voice. Your View media contest. Your Voice. Your View asks high school students across the state to create anti-sexual violence public service announcements. Participating schools receive workshops on sexual violence prevention (including topics such as sexual harassment, consent, gender stereotypes, media literacy, and bystander intervention), and students create scripts for public service announcements to change peers attitudes and social norms about sexual violence and encouraging them to help prevent it from happening through their respectful words and behavior. Winning ads professionally filmed and aired on local television stations throughout April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month.