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#QueerSVAM: What is Sexual Violence?

April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month, a time to honor the experiences of sexual violence survivors, and to find ways that we can all engage in destigmatizing and preventing sexual violence. At AVP, we use the term Sexual Violence Awareness Month, instead of the more traditionally recognized Sexual Assault Awareness Month, because we understand sexual violence occurs on a spectrum of behaviors, including harassment, exploitation, and murder. We affirm all of the ways our communities define their experiences of sexual violence, whether or not it meets the criminal legal definition of sexual assault.

Sexual violence is any completed or attempted act, comment, or advance by anyone in any setting to which an individual has not given your explicit consent. It can be part of, and also can be distinct from, the cycle of power and control central to  intimate partner violence. Sexual violence can also be perpetrated by current and former partners, coworkers, classmates, friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Although the majority of sexual violence is committed by cisgender men, people of all genders can experience and perpetrate sexual violence. In LGBTQ community, we face  even higher rates of sexual violence than our non-LGBTQ counterparts.

The mainstream definition of sexual violence typically offers a limited understanding of who can experience and perpetrate sexual violence. This leaves LGBTQ survivors further marginalized and without proper resources or tools for navigating and recovering from harm. LGBTQ people who are sex workers, currently or formerly incarcerated, Black or Brown, low income, disabled, transgender, or undocumented may have a harder time accessing supportive services after violence due to racial, economic, and gendered systems of oppression.

No matter a person’s identity, sexual violence is never the survivor’s fault. If you or someone you know is a survivor, reach out to your local anti-violence project or to AVP’s 24/7, bilingual hotline at (212) 714- 1141.