MENTION the terms sexual abuse and sexual violence and the first word to spring to mind may be rape, with the image of a tragic end to an otherwise enjoyable night out, through a combination of excess alcohol, poor judgement and ill fate, typically with someone the individual has never met before.

Yet sexual abuse and violence, of which rape makes up one aspect, includes any non-consensual sexual activity, which does not need to involve full sex to constitute a crime. In many cases, the victim knows the perpetrator. They may be a partner or ex-partner, a family friend or someone who is in a position of responsibility.

The statistics for sexual abuse and violence make for uneasy reading. Although figures reveal some form of sexual assault occurring to a quarter of women, and one in six men, the actual numbers may be much greater due to under reporting, with shame a significant barrier to many victims seeking help.

Sexual abuse and violence include any sexual activity where one party does not consent. Consent should be verbal, and enthusiastically demonstrated. Not saying no does not constitute a yes. Nor does not putting up a fight. Often victims of sexual abuse and violence are too terrified to say no, and the fear of physical violence or worse prevents them from even voicing their fears.

To consent, the person has to be in control of their faculties, i.e., not under the influence of alcohol or other substances, and also fully understand what they are agreeing to. Hence children cannot consent to sexual activity. Nor can those who are mentally handicapped.

Spotting abuse can be difficult, especially as the perpetrator may be a respected person. Adult victims may demonstrate anxiety and fear around their abuser, or seek to act in a manner that reduces any confrontation. Sexually abused children will either retreat into themselves or demonstrate hypersexualised behaviour.

The scars of sexual abuse and violence can be lifelong. Mercifully we now live in a culture with a greater recognition of what constitutes abuse, with a widely-held belief that such behaviour can never be accepted nor condoned. We also have robust institutions, with fully-trained professionals, to support victims.

Sex should be enjoyable for both parties, who should feel the confidence to voice their desires, yet also the freedom to say no at any point.