Forms of Sexual Assault
last updated February 1, 2006

Sexual assault is a violation of women's human rights that may be perpetrated by state actors such as the police or military. Women are vulnerable to sexual abuse and assault when they are in state custody and by state "custodians" while in hospitals or nursing homes. Women are also sexually assaulted and abused during and after armed conflict. During conflict, rape is used as a weapon of war. Refugee women are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation.

Sexual assault may also be perpetrated by non-state actors, such as acquaintances, dating partners, or current or former spouses and boyfriends. Only a small percentage of rapes are perpetrated by strangers. A study of the extent, nature and consequences of intimate partner violence in the United States found that nearly two-thirds of women who had been raped as adults had been raped by a current or former spouse or dating partner. Approximately twenty percent were raped by an acquaintance, and six percent were raped by a relative. Only 16.7% of women surveyed were raped by a stranger.

From Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, Patricia Tjaden & Nancy Thoennes, U.S. Department of Justice 43 (2000).

Such assaults are violations of women's human rights when the state fails to take sufficient steps to protect women from such violence or to punish perpetrators. In addition, states may not discriminate between men and women and must investigate and punish assaults of women committed by intimate partners as thoroughly and aggressively as they do assaults committed by strangers or assaults committed against men.