In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sexual Assault

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Textbooks
  • Manuals and Guidebooks
  • Journals
  • Legal Responses
  • International Perspectives
  • Victim Response
  • Treatment of Victims
  • Male Victims
  • Sexual Assault and Sexual-Minority Women
  • Military Sexual Assault

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Social Work Sexual Assault
Cheryl Regehr, Ramona Alaggia
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0080


This entry identifies materials from the social work literature, other health science disciplines, and legal scholars regarding sexual assault against adult victims. The World Health Organization, in its World Report on Violence and Health (Krug, et al. 2002, cited under Statistics), defines sexual violence as “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work” (p. 149). While in the past, legal statutes referred to “rape” as an act involving sexual penetration of a woman by a man, most jurisdictions now use the broader term “sexual assault.” For instance, the Criminal Code of Canada refers to sexual assault as when “somebody touches you in a sexual way on purpose, directly or indirectly, without your consent,” whereas aggravated sexual assault involves serious injury; this definition includes rape. In Texas, by contrast, “sexual assault” refers to unwanted sexual advances that fall short of rape but which, though they may not include violence or even contact, nonetheless offend the recipient and are clearly sexual in nature. The term “sexual assault” is selected for use in this article and is intended to include all serious forms of unwanted sexual contact, including rape.

Introductory Works

This section on introductory works begins with some important early works in the area of sexual assault and rape, including Burgess and Holmstrom 1974, a groundbreaking paper identifying rape trauma as a mental health problem, Brownmiller 1975, a classic feminist analysis of rape, and Groth, et al. 1977, an early article to describe the dynamics of rape and sexual assault. Beyond this, important works in the area of post-traumatic stress (Herman 1997; van der Kolk, et al. 1996) provide important bases for understanding issues related to sexual assault.

  • Brownmiller, Susan. 1975. Against our will: Men, women, and rape. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    In this classic work, Brownmiller traces the history of rape and rape law and asserts that rape is “a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear” (p. 5). This book became a rallying point for women’s liberation and the rape crisis movement.

  • Burgess, Ann Wolbert, and Lynda Lytle Holmstrom. 1974. Rape trauma syndrome. American Journal of Psychiatry 131.9: 981–986.

    This groundbreaking article was the first to outline symptoms of trauma in victims of rape in a highly respected international psychiatric journal. It set the stage for subsequent changes in law and mental health regarding sexual violence.

  • Groth, A. Nicholas, Ann W. Burgess, and Lynda L. Holmstrom. 1977. Rape: Power, anger, and sexuality. American Journal of Psychiatry 134.11: 1239–1243.

    DOI: 10.1176/ajp.134.11.1239

    The article chronicles accounts both from offenders and victims of what occurs during a rape and concludes that issues of power, anger, and sexuality are important in understanding the rapist’s behavior.

  • Herman, Judith Lewis. 1997. Trauma and recovery. New York: Basic Books.

    Describes the potentially devastating effects of sexual violence on victims and strategies for intervention.

  • van der Kolk, Bessel, Alexander K. McFarlane, and Lars Weisaeth. 1996. Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society. New York: Guilford.

    Because rape is now viewed as one of the archetypal events leading to post-traumatic stress disorder, this book provides an excellent grounding in concepts of etiology, consequences, and possible treatments for traumatic stress.

  • Whisnant, Rebecca. 2013. Feminist perspectives on rape. In The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ.

    This work is a very comprehensive and useful definitional guide on rape. It includes concepts of consent, forms of rape (including war and genocide rape), harms done to women individually and collectively, and rape and racism. Substantial revisions have updated this into a modern feminist perspective of rape.

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