What is Sexual Violence? Let’s Talk about Power

“If you are a person who is alive … in the world, you know a survivor of sexual assault. The extent to which women, men, and transgender people are sexually assaulted is unknown because of the elements of cultural silence, disbelief, and fear of more violence that surrounds rape.”

- Supporting a Survivor of Sexual Assault, UBUNTU* and Men Against Rape Culture (MARC)

*UBUNTU is a U.S. based movement “led by women of color and survivors of sexual assault, dedicated to creating a world without sexual violence”.

Power and Control

Sexual violence is violence. Period. It is a result of power imbalances that stem from gender inequality and systemic oppression.

The Power and Control model of understanding sexual violence identifies power and control as the goal of all of the tactics of abuse. Victims’ experiences consistently indicate that the behaviour of the perpetrator is not random or arbitrary, but purposeful and systematic. The goal of abusers’ behaviour is to exert control over the victim/survivor. This goal reflects their belief that they have a right and entitlement to control the victim/survivor. The various forms of abuse, the different behaviours as outlined below, are used as tactics of control. These tactics can be in person, or virtual.

Click on the icons below to learn more about power and control.

Power and Control

Sexual violence is violence. Period.  It is about entitlement, dominance, power, control, and humiliation.  Sexual violence is a result of power imbalances that stem from gender inequality and other forms of systemic oppression.


Coercion is when someone tries to change a “no”, “maybe” or “I don’t know” into a “yes”. Coercion can also involve threats and/or bribery. 

Financial Control

People who perpetrate sexual violence also target vulnerability. Living in poverty or not having stable housing can leave someone vulnerable.  A victim/survivor might depend on the person perpetrating the sexual violence for financial security, whether the person is their boss, their partner, or a client.  If someone is relying on another for a place to stay or a drive home, they may not have the freedom to say no or the ability to fend off that person’s sexual advances. 




Rape culture perpetuates the idea that being in a relationship means that you are entitled to sex. No one owes anyone sex regardless of the type of relationship they have or how many times they have previously had sex. It also may be difficult for someone to report if the person who violated them is/was their partner. 

Gender Norms

Gender norms dictate that men should aggressively pursue women. These same norms say that women should be polite, passive, and always ready for sexual activity. Gender norms enforce the idea that men are entitled to women’s bodies, labour, and time. 

Threat of Violence

Many women fear that rejection could result in a violent reaction. There are unfortunately many current examples of men attacking or killing women who refuse their advances. Many sex workers also face violence (sexual and otherwise) if they say no to a client or a certain sex act.  

Minimizing, Denying and Blaming

Sometimes sexual violence gets reframed as “non consensual sex”. This minimizes both the violence and the impact it has on victims/survivors. If there is no consent, it’s sexual violence.  Victims/survivors are also often blamed for what happened to them. 

Using Sexual Violence to Control a People

Sexual violence has been, and continues to be, used as a tool of colonization, slavery, and war.  

Limiting the Power of Marginalized People

Systemic oppression limits the autonomy (i.e. control) that marginalized people have over their lives, wellbeing, bodies and health (sexual and otherwise). This lack of autonomy contributes to the power imbalances that foster sexual violence. 

Systemic Oppression

While sexual violence is often perpetrated by individuals against other individuals, it also exists on a societal level. It is a result of power imbalances that stem from gender inequality and other forms of systemic oppression. Systemic oppression is a series of barriers that disadvantage particular groups of people (based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, class, age, immigration status etc.) enforced through systems such as laws, institutions, and social norms.

Systemic Oppression Interactive Graphic

Click on an Image for a better view

 Reflection Activity:

After watching the Introduction Video, reading the page above, reflect on these questions and click on the notes button below to add your thoughts.  These questions can help you explore your thinking.

  1. What stood out as you viewed the video, quote, and graphics?
  2. What surprised you?