Sexual violence occurs everywhere in society – in the home, in communities, in schools and work places, in public spheres and in institutions. Sexual violence is common in conflicts and emergencies but take place in all circumstances, regardless of economic and other development.
Sexual violence is commonly understood as one or several of the following actions:
• sexual harassment,
• sexual exploitation and abuse,
• forced prostitution,
• female genital mutilation,
• sexual slavery,
• pornography, and
• trafficking for sexual purposes.
Sexual violence is perpetrated against children, women, and men in a vacuum of the rule of law. It is often exacerbated by a culture of impunity.
Girls and boys are more vulnerable to sexual violence due to gender discrimination, traditional cultural practices, perceptions of masculinity, and unequal power relations between adults and children.
Abusers exploit children for sexual purposes
Children face sexual exploitation by people who have an emotional or professional relationship with the child and who exploit their position of trust and power. Children are also sexually exploited by abusers or third parties with commercial or other exploitative interests.
Children are often victims of several forms of violence
Different forms of violence against children are often interrelated. A child who is sexually abused has often experienced several other forms of violence. Girls and boys who have run away from home often state parental violence and abuse as the main reason.
At the same time, a child that has left home is vulnerable to additional sexual violence in the community, in the streets, in institutions, and at work.
Members of child headed households are also at particular risk. In other words, the same child can experience sexual violence in several settings by different perpetrators.
States have committed to protect children
The legal age of consent defines when a child is regarded mature enough to consent to mutually desired sexual relations. In some countries the legal age of consent is as low as 12 years – and the socially accepted age may be even lower.
However, in ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, states have committed themselves to protecting all children under the age of 18 from all forms of sexual violence.