The Continuum of Sexual Violence

Part of the Explorations in Sociology book series (EIS)


This chapter discusses the application of the concept of the continuum of sexual violence to research on, and discussion of, the issue of sexual violence. Two of the original aims of the research were to explore the links between the different forms of sexual violence and to investigate the idea, which arose whilst working in a refuge for battered women, that most women have experience of sexual violence in their lifetime.1 Whilst analysing the in-depth interviews carried out with women, I begin to use the concept of a continuum of sexual violence to describe the findings in the two areas.


Domestic Violence Sexual Harassment Sexual Violence Battered Woman Abuse Woman 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 1.
    The term ‘sexual violence’ is used as a general term to cover all forms of abuse, coercion and force that women experience from men. There are both empirical and theoretical reasons for using this term. When the interviews were analysed it became clear that it is not possible to make neat distinctions between physical and sexual violence. Many battered women are raped or coerced into having sex; many raped or incestuously abused women and girls also experience physical violence. On a theoretical level the term draws attention to the fact that it is violence committed by one sex, men, directed at the other sex, women. It also links to MacKinnon’s (1982) analysis of sexuality as a system of power through which men attempt to control women.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The categories used in this table emerged out of women’s own definitions and data analysis. Sexual harassment covers experiences at work, in the street, in public places. Pressure to have sex covers experiences where women felt pressured by the man’s behaviour or expectations, but they chose not to say no. Coercive sex covers experiences women described as being ‘like rape’, where their consent was coerced or participation forced. Sexual abuse covered all forms of sexual violence women experienced before the age of sixteen which were not already counted in the incest category. Sexual assault contains experiences of sexual violence after the age of sixteen not already counted in other categories; a number of attempted rapes are included in this figure. Rape, domestic violence and incest, flashing and obscene phone calls contain experiences women defined as such.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    A number of women were lesbians and/or celibate at the time of the interview. However, they all had had heterosexual relationships in the past and were asked to discuss these in response to the question about saying no to sex.Google Scholar

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© British Sociological Association 1987

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