Support for Women Sexually Assaulted by Male Partners
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“Not knowing the right label for an experience doesn't mean it didn't happen.”
~ Robin Warshaw ~


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What follows is an overview of the forms that IPSV can take. I have included this page because women sexually assaulted by partners are often confused about how to define their experience/s. Many women fear naming-it can be very frightening -the pain of being sexually assaulted is bad enough, but when it is done by somebody whom you love or trust can be a very deep, intimate hurt.

You may also be confused because you have internalized what you've heard about rape by boyfriends or husbands not being considered real rape.

Some women will experience pain as they recognize themselves in the following list. I would suggest that you engage the support you deserve (please go here for contacts)    You have a right for your sexual abuse to be seen with the same gravity as anybody else's. Please try not to listen to anyone who might devalue your pain.

I also extend the possibility that recognition and naming, though initially frightening, has the potential to ultimately heal and strengthen.

However, please bear in mind that even if you feel unable to give your experience the name of rape/sexual assault, you still deserve support - counsellors and other survivors do understand why naming can be painful, and will not push you to give what happened to you a name.


Rape is: Forcible penetration of your vagina or anus with finger, penis or object. It is also forcing you into oral sex - either to go down on him, or him going down on you. Note: Researchers have commented on the frequent incidence of anal and oral rape in sexual violence by partners. It's thought that this may be an especial means of degradation or hurting, especially if the man knows his partner finds the idea unpleasant (1, 2). Many rape survivors feel extra shame around anal rape. But there is nothing to be ashamed of; it is something he did to hurt you.

Rape may also involve forcing you to engage in sexual acts with an animal, or setting you up for gang-rape. (You might like to go here to see an article by a survivor of gang-rape whose partner was the instigator).

Sexual Assault is: Any unwanted sexual touching i.e. forced kissing, handling of your breasts or vagina, causing you to handle him; forcing you to view pornography, or "sexting" - sharing intimate pictures of you without your consent - and that last is now a crime in some parts of Australia. Sexual assault also includes photographing or filming you having sex or naked without your knowledge or consent.

If your partner enages in sexual activity with you under any of the following circumstances, it is rape/sexual assault:
  • Physical violence i.e. hitting, choking
  • Threats with weapons
  • Continuing sexual activity after you have indicated you wish to stop. (It doesn't matter if you initially consented; people change their minds for a number of reasons all the time. Your wishes should be respected).
  • Overpowering you with physical strength, pinning you down
  • Threats to harm you or a third person
  • Threats to your property/pets
  • Threats to rape you if you don't give in -that basically says "let me rape you or I'll rape you" - sex gained under such a threat is rape.
  • Depriving you of liberty until you acquiesce to a sexual demand; i.e. "you don't leave this room until I get what I want".
  • Having sexual intercourse with you while you are sleeping or incapacitated by drugs/alcohol to the extent that you cannot give or withdraw consent
  • Refusal to allow you to sleep until you give in to sexual demands (note: sleep deprivation is a recognized form of torture)
  • Sexual activity after continuous pressure on you to have sex before you are ready, to perform acts you have stated you don't like; or just going ahead and doing it.
  • Putting you in a position where you must engage in one form of sexual activity to prevent something "worse" from happening i.e. you have to engage in oral sex in order to avoid anal rape.
It is important that you realize you do not have to have physically fought or even said "no" for an act to be regarded as sexual assault. Tears or other expression of discomfort are more than reasonable indicators that you do not want the sexual activity. Often, sexually violent partners do not actually seek consent, or if you do say no, it is not taken any notice of.
 Remember that submission is not the same as consent.

Yes. Sexual activity using emotionally distressing tactics of coercion such as sulking, becoming angry with you, withdrawing affection, withholding household money or blackmail i.e. I'll leave you; I'll go and sleep with somebody else; I'll spread rumours about you". Finkelhor and Yllo call this type of rape 'interpersonal coercion' and state that it has devaluing and traumatic effect on women (3). Furthermore, research has found that a higher proportion of women are upset by threats to leave them, than women subjected to physical force.(4).

Some people find calling this type of sexual coercion rape contentious. The basis of this is usually that the coercion involved here is different than that involved in rape where physical violence has been committed or explicitly threatened. "She didn't say no" becomes the catchcry. But did she say "yes" and under what circumstances? In Australia it is now recognized legally that doing or saying nothing to indicate free agreement to sexual contact, may under law be recognized as "absence of consent". (Thanks to Dr. P. Easteal for informing me of this, and directing me towards further reading). Prosecution remains problematic, but it does mean that submitting, or silently laying there should no longer be taken for granted as consent. We There's a lot of talk about women being responsible for using their voices. Well sure. But once again, rape becomes about what the woman did or didn't do. It is just as correct and just as fair for someody to make sure real consent is present.  The ideal of the "cad" who could use whatever means necessary to overcome resistance and get what he wanted and was slapped on the back for getting it instead of being confronted as a rapist will hopefully become a thing of the past. The rules have changed and sexual partners need to show that they sought consent.
At the time of writing, similar reforms have been passed in the US, and most recently the UK. Such reform recognizes that submission does not equate consent and that women may be coerced in a number of non-violent but distressing ways. It addresses at least in part, the old and common assumption that men are entitled to use any means necessary to persuade or "seduce" a woman into sexual activity (5)
If a perpetrator has badgered a woman until she submits, he surely realizes that true consent is not present. Submission is not consent.
There are extremely demeaning and controlling forms of abuse that may or may not co-exist with criminal sexual assault. I call them sexual abuse as they are often based in the desire to control, own or degrade a partner, and are certainly experienced as abusive. These may include:
  • Denying reproductive choice to a partner. This would include denying access to contraceptive measures, or trickery such as putting a hole in the end of a condom before use.
  • Leaving pornography where you are likely to come across it when it is known that you find such material repellent; pushing you to watch pornography as "inspiration" for sex acts
  • Sexually degrading names i.e. "Slut", "whore"
  • Saying objectifying or degrading things about your body or sexual performance i.e. "you're a lousy lay", get "fat ass", "tits too small"
  • Commenting in a degrading or embarrassing way about your body or sexual performance in the presence of others i.e."you should see what she let me do last night; "suck my dick, bitch".
  • Implying there is something "wrong" with you for choosing not to participate in certain acts; labels like "frigid"
  • Saying that he does not want sex with you because you are "too ugly" until you lose weight etc
  • Boasting of affairs; comparing your physical appearance/sexual performance unfavourably to others. Conversely,, repeatedly (and unfoundedly) accusing you of affairs. Denying you the right to have friends of the opposite sex. Sexual innuendos about platonic friendships that are outside of joking.
  • Open leering at other people and expressing the wish to sleep with them or flirting in a way that suggests sexual availability in your presence
  • Controlling your clothing i.e. "you're not going out in that; you can only wear sexy clothes for me"; pressure to wear revealing lingerie.
  • Verbal attacks on you if you choose to masturbate; demanding in an invasive or controlling way to know what you think about when you do; using your sexual fantasies against you.
  • Repeated hints or pressure to engage in activities that you have stated you do not wish to i.e. partner-swapping.
  • Kissing or fondling you continuously in company. This may be a sign of affection, but insecure and possessive partners may do it as a sign of ownership or as a form of control. Under these circumstances, it has an obsessive or controlling feel and can be distressing.
  • Sexual experimentation which your partner may then turn on you for; calling you names for doing what he wanted at the time to do; judging you for having sexual desires
  • .Insistence on knowing about all you past sexual partners, demanding that you describe sexual encounters and "rate" them in terms of his performance. Judging your sexual history.
  • Cruel and rewounding comments about a known past rape; implying you "liked it" that way
  1. Finkelhor, David and Yllo, Kersti, License to Rape: Sexual Abuse of Wives, The Free Press, New York (1985)
  2. Russell, Diana E.H., Rape in Marriage, Indiana University Press, USA (1990)
  3. Finkelhor, David and Yllo, Kersti, License to Rape: Sexual Abuse of Wives, The Free Press, New York (1985)
  4. Russell, Diana E.H., Rape in Marriage, Indiana University Press, USA (1990)
  5. McSherry, Bernadette, Balancing the Scales: Rape Law Reform & Australian Culture, Ed. Easteal, P., The Federation Press, NSW (1998)