What is gender-based violence?

Defining gender-based violence

A type of violence committed by an offender who uses the assertion of power, control, and/or intimidation to harm another. These acts may be committed by strangers, friends, acquaintances, intimates or other persons.

Gender-based violence traditionally has been known as violence against women, but as we strive to understand these crimes we must acknowledge that the terminology "violence against women" diminishes the experiences of male survivors and those not included in the gender binary. While these crimes are overwhelmingly committed by men against women, the overriding similarities in these crimes are not the gender of the perpetrator or the victim, but the desire to assert power and control over another person. Often this assertion of power and control manifests in feminizing the victim regardless of the gender or sex of the victim. Because we devalue the feminine within our culture, this "violence against the feminine" is often about either demonstrating the weakness and helplessness of the victim and/or the strength and superiority of the perpetrator.

 Myths about gender-based violence

  • Only women can be victims.
  • Danger is from strangers, not those we know.
  • Only "those kind of people" are victimized.
  • We can make ourselves safe from violence if we just (fill in the blank).

The reality of gender-based violence

  • One in four COLLEGE WOMEN will be sexually assaulted during her time on campus.
  • 85 percent of sexual violence is committed by someone the victim knows.
  • Nine of 10 women in college who are raped never report.
  • One in six women and one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape.
  • 57 percent of students who have reported being in an abusive dating relationship said it occurred in college.

Gender-Based Violence Examples:

Relationship Violence

Many terms (domestic violence, battering, relationship violence, spouse abuse, wife beating) have been used to describe the pattern of coercive and abusive tactics employed by one partner in a relationship to gain power and control over the other partner. Relationship violence can take many forms including physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, and emotional, sexual or economic abuse. These include the following behaviors:

Verbal Abuse

  • Name Calling
  • Threatening Language
  • Intimidating Language

Emotional Abuse

  • Criticizing
  • Displaying jealousy
  • Using public humiliation
  • Putting down the partner
  • Isolating
  • Dominating
  • Using the children

Financial Abuse

  • Controlling the money
  • Concealing joint assets or shared money
  • Keeping their partner impoverished
  • Blowing money

Physical Abuse

  • Pushing
  • Slapping
  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Choking
  • Pulling hair
  • Biting
  • Using Weapons
  • Tying their partner up
  • Locking their partner in a room

Sexual Abuse

  • Raping
  • Physically attacking sexual parts
  • Forcing their partner to perform sexual acts
  • Forcing their partner to watch others perform sexual acts
  • Refusing to respect decisions about birth control
  • Pursuing sexual activity when the victim is not fully conscious or is asleep
  • Causing physical pain during sex without consent

System Abuse

  • Violating restraining orders
  • Violating child custody agreements
  • Telling lies about their partner to police, court

Other Resources:

Sexual Assault and Rape

What constitutes a rape or sexual assault?

Sexual assault is physical contact of a sexual nature in the absence of clear, knowing and voluntary consent. An individual cannot consent who is:

  • obviously incapacitated by any drug or intoxicant
  • who has been purposely compelled by force, threat of force, or deception
  • who is unaware that the act is being committed
  • whose ability to consent or resist is obviously impaired because of mental or physical condition
  • who is coerced by supervisory or disciplinary authority.

Rape is not always accompanied by other physical violence.

When a person is sexually assaulted she/he may react in various ways. Some people scream or fight back; many become quiet - too shocked to speak or cry out. Paralyzed by fear, they may be unable to resist. If violence is threatened some may make the decision not to struggle with the hope of getting away with the least amount of physical harm. Consequently, they may or may not have torn clothes or show signs of a struggle afterward. Verbal intimidation, threats or emotional blackmail may be used by the assailant. Therefore, a survivor does not need to show physical injuries to prove an assault occurred.

Rape and sexual assault, whether by a stranger or a friend, is never the survivor's fault.

Rape and sexual assault is always more about the use of force or power to humiliate, control, hurt or violate a person than about sexual desire or passion. There is evidence to suggest that a very large number of attacks are premeditated. The characteristics of the person in terms of gender, status, age, cultural background, occupation, or previous relationships are irrelevant; any person can suffer sexual assault or rape. A victim of sexual assault is never responsible for the assault. Since it is impossible to guess which situations are safe and which are dangerous, the responsibility for ending sexual assault falls solely on the perpetrators.

Sexual Assault and Rape Resources:


Stalking is a set of many behaviors (e.g., telephone harassment, sending unwanted gifts, pursuing, or surveillance). The focus on stalking as a set of behaviors helps to demystify the phenomenon and offers a degree of understanding and control for the observer. Another aspect of stalking behaviors that needs to be explained is that such behaviors can be produced by individuals with very different backgrounds, motivations, and psychological disorders. In other words, a stalker who harbors delusions that the victim is in love with him performs behaviors that are often similar to an ex-partner who seeks revenge for being rejected. The variety of specific strategies employed and behaviors displayed by stalkers are limited only by the creativity and ingenuity of the stalkers themselves. Suffice it to say, virtually any unwanted contact between a stalker and their victim which directly or indirectly communicates a threat or places the victim in fear can generally be referred to as stalking.

The legal definition of stalking is defined primarily by state statutes. While statutes vary, most define stalking as a course of conduct that places a person in fear for their safety.

Is Stalking a New Phenomenon?

No -- the history of stalking behavior is as old as the history of human relationships. Stalking has always been with us -- what is new is that, until recently, it was never labeled as a separate and distinct class of deviant behavior. Prior to its common usage and its subsequent designation as a crime, stalking was referred to as harassment, annoyance or, in some cases, simply as domestic violence.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, numerous high-profile cases involving celebrities began to catch the attention of the media and public policy leaders. Only then did such behavior begin to be described as "stalking."

Since then, stalking has become a common subject in the popular media. With the advent of blockbuster films -- such as Fatal Attraction, Cape Fear,and Sleeping with the Enemy -- and its coverage by the news media, "stalking" has become a household word.

The most common form of stalking, however, is perpetrated by individuals who had a prior relationship of some type.

Stalking Resources:

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination that violates Title VII and/or Title IX Civil Rights Legislation.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim's professor, supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to the victim.
  • The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.

Several types of sexual conduct directed at another person may be considered sexual harassment, including but not limited to the following:

  • "Trading" grades for sex
  • Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks or questions
  • Unwanted pressure for dates
  • Deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering or pinching
  • Sexual looks or gestures
  • Pressure for sexual favors
  • Unwelcome letters, telephone calls, or materials of a sexual nature
  • Displaying sexually suggestive pictures, objects, or graffiti
  • Whistling or catcalling
  • Making graphic or degrading comments about another’s appearance, dress, or anatomy
  • Leering
  • Wolf whistles
  • Discussion of one's partner's sexual inadequacies
  • Sexual innuendos
  • Comments about women's bodies
  • "Accidentally" brushing sexual parts of the body
  • Tales of sexual exploitation
  • Descriptions of pornography
  • Sexually explicit gestures
  • Unwelcome touching and hugging
  • Sexist jokes and cartoons
  • Obscene phone calls
  • Displaying pornography in the workplace
  • Insisting that workers wear revealing clothes
  • Inappropriate gifts (ex. lingerie)
  • Sexual assault
  • Stalking
  • Indecent exposure

Sexual harassment is not a relationship of mutual consent, a hug between friends, or mutual flirtation.

Adapted from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission web site (www.eeoc.gov).

Sexual Harassment Resources: