Terms You Should Know About Violence Against Women

The definitions of the crimes against women vary depending on the state and/or country. Local tradition often overrides laws and as a result many acts of aggression against women go unreported.


Rape is defined as vaginal, oral, or anal penetration by the penis or any other object without consent of the other person.

Rape as defined by the United Nations is: "a physical invasion of a sexual nature, committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive."

Rape as defined by the U.S. Department of Justice is: an event that occurs without the victim’s consent, that involves the uses or threat of force to penetrate the victim’s vagina or anus by penis, tongue, fingers or object, or the victim’s mouth by penis, whether attempted or completed.

Rape as a War Crime

As defined by Amnesty International: Rape, Enforced Prostitution and Other Sexual Rape of detainees by government officials or by armed opposition groups on a systematic or large scale is a crime against humanity, which should be within the jurisdiction of the international criminal court. Rape in such circumstances is a form of torture, but because of its unique characteristics it also deserves being identified as a separate crime against humanity. Enforced prostitution on a systematic or large scale when government officials or armed opposition groups force detainees to carry out such conduct should also be considered as a crime against humanity which should be within the court's jurisdiction. Some forms of other sexual abuse of detainees by government officials or armed opposition groups committed on a systematic or large scale may amount to crimes against humanity. For the same reasons that they are prohibited in international and non-international armed conflict, they should be considered crimes against humanity.


Incest as defined by the Survivors of Incest Anonymous World Services Offices is: Incest is any sexual behavior imposed on the child by a family member, including extended family members such as teachers or clergy. Sexual contacts may include a variety of verbal and/or physical behaviors; penetration is not necessary for the experience to count as incest.

Incest as defined by the Domestic Violence and Incest Resource Center: Incest happens in the family when an adult or older adolescent uses a child or young person for their sexual gratification. It can include fondling, exhibitionism, intercourse, oral or anal sex, masturbation, photographing naked children, or child prostitution.

Dowry Deaths & Bride Burning

As defined by UNICEF: Husbands often engineer an "accident" (frequently the bursting of a kitchen stove) when they feel the obligatory marriage dowry (gifts from in-laws) is not enough. In India, it is estimated that more than 5,000 women are killed each year because their in-laws consider their dowries inadequate. A tiny percentage of their murderers are brought to justice.

Acid Attacks

As defined by UNICEF: In an acid attack, a man throws acid (the kind found in car batteries) on the face of a girl or woman. Any number of reasons can lead to acid attacks. A delayed meal or the rejection of a marriage proposal is offered as justification for a man to disfigure a woman with acid. Sulfuric acid is present everywhere, being the basic, inexpensive ingredient for making lead acid batteries in all motorized vehicles all over the world. There does not appear to be any way of reducing its availability in any way. The court systems in Bangladesh have only recently started to administer stiff punishments to perpetrators, hoping that this will work as deterrent to others.

The Acid Survivors Foundation was established in May 1999 in Bangladesh to tackle the problem. Throwing of sulfuric acid on the face and body of young females has become an increasingly popular way of expressing anger or frustration by jilted men, some being jilted lovers, ex-husbands, and the like. Some of these young women are nothing more than unfortunately being at the wrong place at the wrong time. In some cases an entire family has been victimized due to a bad relationship between one person in a family and an outsider.

Honor Killing

As defined by UNICEF: 'Honor killing' is an ancient practice in which men kill female relatives in the name of family 'honor' for forced or suspected sexual activity outside marriage, even when they have been victims of rape. Reports indicate that offenders are often under 18 and that in their communities they are sometimes treated as heroes. These killings have been reported in Pakistan, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, the Gaza strip and West Bank.

As defined by UNICEF: Female infanticide is defined as the abortion of a fetus because it is female or the killing of an infant by a relative because it is female. Infanticide has been practiced as a brutal method of family planning in societies where boy children are still valued, economically and socially, above girls. Anecdotal evidence suggests that outright infanticide, usually of newborn girls, takes place in some communities in Asia. Medical testing for sex selection, though officially outlawed, has become a booming business in China, India and the Republic of Korea.

Female Genital Mutilation

The term FGM covers three main varieties of genital mutilation:

  1. "Sunna" circumcision, meaning "traditional," consists of the removal of the prepuce (a fold of skin that covers the clitoris) and/or the tip of the clitoris.
  2. Clitoridectomy (also referred to as excision) consists of the removal of the entire clitoris and the removal of the adjacent labia.
  3. Infibulation (also referred to as pharaonic circumcision), is the most extreme form, consisting of the removal of the clitoris, the entire labia, and the joining of the scraped sides of the vulva across the vagina, where they are secured with thorns or sewn with catgut or thread. A small opening is kept to allow passage of urine and menstrual blood. An infibulated woman must be cut open to allow intercourse on the wedding night and is closed again afterwards to secure fidelity to the husband.

FGM is currently illegal in most countries. The United Nations, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization have considered FGM to be a violation of Human Rights and have made recommendations to eradicate this practice.


Stalking as defined by the U.S. Department of Justice: A course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated (two or more occasions) visual or physical proximity; non-consensual communication; verbal, written or implied threats; or a combination thereof that would cause a high level of fear in a reasonable person.

The variety of specific strategies employed and behaviors displayed by stalkers are limited only by the creativity and ingenuity of the stalkers themselves. Virtually any unwanted contact between a stalker and his or her victim which directly or indirectly communicates a threat or places the victim in fear can generally be referred to as stalking.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that are connected to decisions about employment or that create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment constitute sexual harassment.

These behaviors may include, but are not limited to:

  • Unwanted sexual advances (even where there may have been a prior consensual relationship)
  • Subtle or overt pressure for sexual favors
  • Sexual jokes
  • Innuendos
  • Suggestive, insulting or obscene comments or gestures
  • Repeated advances or propositions
  • Verbal abuse of a sexual nature
  • Graphic comments about an individual's body, sexual prowess or sexual deficiencies
  • Leering, whistling, touching, pinching in a suggestive or sexual manner
  • Coerced sexual acts
  • Display of sexually suggestive objects or pictures in the workplace
  • Other physical, verbal, or visual conduct of a sexual nature


Physical Assault as defined by the U.S. Department of Justice: Behaviors that threaten, attempt, or actually inflict physical harm, ranging from slapping and hitting to using a gun.

Sexual Slavery

The Protection Project reported in March 2001 that trafficking of women and children is on the rise worldwide, with a greater movement of sex slaves from African countries to the United States, Canada, and Europe.

The Protection Project, which gathers information on the trafficking of women and children, has compiled an online data base and report documenting the scope of the problem in more than 190 countries and laws aimed at tackling the issue.

It is impossible to provide exact figures on the extent of the problem because it is criminal in nature. However, according to U.S. government estimates, 50,000 women are brought to the United States each year and forced to work as prostitutes. The report said many of these sex slaves came from countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Thailand, Mexico, the Czech Republic and China. With globalization, the sex industry increasingly involves vast networks of organized criminals, modern Mafia and corrupt government officials.

Russia and newly independent states such as Ukraine are among the biggest "senders" of women and children along with a host of African countries moving them to European countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands and France.

The Protection Project database is updated daily and intended to help those fighting against the sex slave trade.

Amnesty International
New York Times - Kerosene, Weapon of Choice For Attacks on Wives in India
New York Times - Sexual Violence as Tool of War: Pattern Emerging in East Timor
The Protection Project