Sexual Violence

Some individuals may find the information on this page triggering. If you feel the need to call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, we encourage you to do so. You can reach the hotline 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673. RAINN also offers an online chat, accessible here.

The term “sexual violence” is an all-encompassing, non-legal term that refers to crimes like sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse. Sexual violence occurs when a perpetrator engages in sexual acts with an individual without that individual’s consent. Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. The legal definition of crimes of sexual violence vary from state to state and the laws about consent vary by state and situation.

Sexual violence does not discriminate. Any individual, regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic background, educational level, disability, or gender can be a victim – or perpetrator – of sexual violence. A perpetrator of sexual violence may be a stranger, an acquaintance, a significant other, or a medical professional. Sexual abuse may also occur within families, including child sexual abuse, incestelder abuse, or by an intimate partner. Sexual violence can also occur at the hands of multiple perpetrators, in the military, or in prison. It can also be drug-facilitated. A survivor of sexual violence may cause a survivor to experience depression, post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, panic attacks, dissociation, and self-harm, amongst other effects.

RAINN offers guidance for safety support for parents and students. The organization has compiled warning signs to look out for if you suspect an individual in your life may have experienced sexual violence. If you’re interested in learning more about your role in preventing sexual assault, click here and here. You can access statistics here. *

If you believe that you have been sexually assaulted, there is help. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673) and talk to a professional. What happened to you was not your fault.

For those who would like to learn more, we recommend the following books, documentaries, television shows, and Ted talks. For self care books and other resources, click here.

Note: Unapologetically Surviving is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This page contains affiliate links and any purchases made through such links will reward Unapologetically Surviving a small commission – at no extra cost to you!


Jane Doe January: My Twenty-Year Search for Truth and Justice by Emily Winslow

Emily Winslow was a young drama student at Carnegie Mellon University’s elite conservatory in Pittsburgh when a man brutally attacked and raped her in January 1992. While the police search for her rapist proved futile, Emily reclaimed her life. Over the course of the next two decades, she fell in love, married, had two children, and began writing mystery novels set in her new hometown of Cambridge, England. Then, in fall 2013, she received shocking news – the police had found her rapist. This is her intimate memoir – the story of a woman’s traumatic past catching up with her, in a country far from home, surrounded by people who have no idea what she’s endured. Caught between past and present, and between two very different cultures, the inquisitive and restless crime novelist searches for clarity. Beginning her own investigation, she delves into Fryar’s family and past, reconnects with the detectives of her case, and works with prosecutors in the months leading to trial.

Naming the Violence: Speaking Out About Lesbian Battering by Lobel

Essays tell the stories of battered lesbians and discuss community organizing activities, support groups, and the possible causes of this form of domestic violence.

Woman-to-Woman Sexual Violence: Does She Call it Rape? by Lori B. Girshick

Lori B. Girshick exposes the shocking, hidden reality of woman-to-woman sexual violence and gives voice to the abused. Drawing on a nationwide survey and in-depth interviews, Girshick explores the experiences and reflections of seventy women, documenting what happened to them, how they responded, and whether they received any help to cope with the emotional impact of their assault. The author discusses how the lesbian community has silenced survivors of sexual violence due to myths of lesbian utopia, and considers what role societal homophobia, biphobia, and heterosexism has played in this silencing. Ranging from date and acquaintance rape, to domestic sexual abuse by partners, to sexual harassment in the workplace, these explicit and harrowing stories provide a fuller understanding of woman-to-woman sexual violence than exists anywhere else.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Speak up for yourself–we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany

I want to rewind the clock, take back the night when the world shattered. I want to erase everything that went wrong. Amber Bryant and Tyler Hicks have been best friends since they were teenagers—trusting and depending on each other through some of the darkest periods of their young lives. Returning home for the summer after her college graduation, Amber begins spending more time with Tyler than she has in years. Despite the fact that Amber is engaged to her college sweetheart, a flirtation begins to grow between them. One night, fueled by alcohol and concerns about whether she’s getting married too young, Amber kisses Tyler. What happens next will change them forever.

The Right to Innocence: Healing the Trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Beverly Engel

At a time when horror stories of childhood sexual abuse are revealed daily, there is still insufficient help for the abused. This problem is finally being dealt with in Beverly Engel’s excellent book, The Right to Innocence. This is a recovery guide, a seven-step program that enables victims to heal the damage such experiences inflict. “A practical and powerful must-read book for all who have suffered childhood sexual abuse, their family members and loved ones, and for all mental health professionals.”

Girl in the Woods: A Memoir by Aspen Matis

In this inspiring memoir, Aspen chronicles her journey, a five-month trek that was ambitious, dangerous, and transformative. A nineteen-year-old girl alone and lost, she conquered desolate mountain passes and met rattlesnakes, bears, and fellow desert pilgrims. Exhausted after each 30-mile day, at times on the verge of starvation, Aspen was forced to confront her numbness, coming to terms with the sexual assault she experienced on the second night of college and her parents’ disappointing response of discouraging her from telling of the attack. On the trail and on her own, she found that survival is predicated on persistent self-reliance. She found her strength. After a thousand miles of solitude, she found a man who helped her learn to love and trust again – and heal.

Lucky by Alice Sebold

In a memoir hailed for its searing candor, as well as its wit, Alice Sebold reveals how her life was transformed when, as an eighteen-year-old college freshman, she was brutally raped and beaten in a park near campus. What ultimately propels this chronicle of sexual assault and its aftermath is Sebold’s indomitable spirit, as she fights to secure her rapist’s arrest and conviction and comes to terms with a relationship to the world that has forever changed. With over a million copies in print, Lucky has touched the lives of a generation of readers. Sebold illuminates the experience of trauma victims and imparts a wisdom profoundly hard-won: “You save yourself or you remain unsaved.” Now reissued with a new afterword by the author, her story remains as urgent as it was when it was first published eighteen years ago.

Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America by Diane Roberts

Florida State’s football team is always in the headlines, producing Heisman Trophy candidates, winning championships, and, at the same time, dealing with federal investigations into corruption and rape. Same as many big time collegiate sports programs. Seems no matter how the team transgresses off the field, if they excel on the field, everyone forgives them. Writer, professor and conflicted Seminole Diane Roberts looks at the problems plaguing her campus in Tallahassee, examining them within the context of college football itself and its significance in American life, and explores how the game shapes our culture.

Scoreboard, Baby: A story of college football, crime, and complicity by Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry

In Scoreboard, Baby, Armstrong and Perry go behind the scenes of the Huskies Cinderella story to reveal a timeless morality tale about the price of obsession, the creep of fanaticism, and the ways in which a community can lose even when its team wins. The authors unearth the true story from firsthand interviews and thousands of pages of documents: the forensic report on a bloody fingerprint; the notes of a detective investigating allegations of rape; confidential memoranda of prosecutors; and the criminal records of the dozen-plus players arrested that year with scant mention in the newspapers and minimal consequences in the courts. The statement of a judge, sentencing one player to thirty days in jail, says it all: “to be served after football season.”

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The Hunting Ground (2015) is a documentary film about the incidence of sexual assault on college campuses in the United States and what its creators say is a failure of college administrations to deal with it adequately. Written and directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Ziering, it premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The film was released on February 27, 2015. Lady Gaga recorded an original song, “Til It Happens to You,” for the film.

I am Evidence (2017) explores the shocking way that sexual assault cases have been historically processed in the United States. It is estimated that every year hundreds of thousands of rape kits are left untested in police storage facilities. This film is available on HBO and Prime Video.

The Invisible War (2012) is a groundbreaking investigative documentary about one of our country’s most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within our US military. Today, a female soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire with the number of assaults in the last decade alone in the hundreds of thousands. Focusing on the powerfully emotional stories of several young women, the film reveals the systemic cover up of the crimes against them and follows their struggles to rebuild their lives and fight for justice. The Invisible War features hard-hitting interviews with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress that reveal the perfect storm conditions that exist for rape in the military, its history of cover-up, and what can be done to bring about much needed change.

Audrie & Daisy (2016) is a Netflix documentary that includes the stories of two American high school students: Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman. At the time of the sexual assaults, Pott was 15 and Coleman was 14 years old. After the assaults, the victims and their families were subjected to abuse and cyberbullying. The documentary follows their outcomes through time, social media, court documents and police investigations.

Surviving R. Kelly (2019) is a Lifetime documentary series detailing sexual abuse allegations against R&B singer, R. Kelly. The series features interviews from a variety of perspectives including survivors, supporters, psychologists and cultural and legal experts. The series uncovers new stories with revealing details and explores why the voices of the girls that spoke up decades ago are only now being heard. The series can be viewed on Netflix, Lifetime, and Prime Video.

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Television Shows

Surviving R. Kelly is a six-part docuseries that explores the sexual abuse allegations multiple women have raised against American singer/rapper R. Kelly. Season 1 is available here and Season 2 is available here. It is also available on Netflix, YouTube, and AmazonPrime.

Unbelievable, a Netflix miniseries (and dramatization of a true story), follows the story of a teenage girl who, after having been raped but not believed by police detectives, was charged with lying about what happened to her. It also follows another set of detectives’ exploration of a twisting path to arrive at the truth. See the trailer here.

I May Destroy You is a British comedy-drama that centers a carefree, self-assured Londoner with a group of great friends, a boyfriend in Italy, and a burgeoning writing career. But when her drink is spiked, she must question and rebuild every element of her life. It is available on HBO and Amazon Prime. See the Season 1 trailer here.

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Ted Talks

Inés Hercovich: Why women stay silent after sexual assault

Trigger Warning: Descriptions of acts of sexual violence.

Why do women who experience sexual assault rarely speak up about it? “Because they fear they won’t be believed,” says Inés Hercovich. “Because when a woman tells what happened to her, she tells us things we can’t imagine, things that disturb us, things we don’t expect to hear, things that shock us.” In this moving talk, she takes us inside an encounter with sexual assault to give us a clearer idea of what these situations really look like — and the difficult choices women make to survive. (In Spanish with English subtitles) Click here to access the English transcript of the TEDTalk.

Jessica Ladd: The reporting system that sexual assault survivors want 

Trigger Warning: College sexual assault 

We don’t have to live in a world where 99 percent of rapists get away with it, says TED Fellow Jessica Ladd. With Callisto, a new platform for college students to confidentially report sexual assault, Ladd is helping survivors get the support and justice they deserve while respecting their privacy concerns. “We can create a world where there’s a real deterrent to violating the rights of another human being,” she says.

Amy Herdy: Have you ever met a monster?

Trigger Warning: Mentions of sexual assault, child sexual abuse, domestic abuse

Amy Herdy explores the cycle of sexual abuse and examines the dangers of dismissing our most violent predators as ‘monsters.’ “Putting a rapist in the category of monster may make us feel safer today, but it’s more dangerous for tomorrow because then we won’t believe that the monster can be a neighbor, a co-worker, a trusted friend because that enables him to hide in plain sight.” Herdy tells the story of Margaret, a serial rapists’ last victim, and how she came to forgive him after learning about his past.

Ione Wells: How we talk about sexual assault online

Trigger Warning: Descriptions of acts of sexual assault 

We need a more considered approach to using social media for social justice, says writer and activist Ione Wells. After she was the victim of an assault in London, Wells published a letter to her attacker in a student newspaper that went viral and sparked the #NotGuilty campaign against sexual violence and victim-blaming. In this moving talk, she describes how sharing her personal story gave hope to others and delivers a powerful message against the culture of online shaming.

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*Material adopted from RAINN.