GBV Glossary

Gender-Based Violence Terms

Child abuse is any act or failure to act that endangers or impairs a child’s physical or emotional health and development. Child abuse can happen in any environment and child abusers come from all walks of life.

There are five general types of child abuse:

  • Physical abuse: all forms of physical violence;
  • Emotional or psychological abuse: Someone regularly berates the child, acts in a hostile manner or intentionally scares the child.
  • Physical neglect: the child does not receive the care and nurturing that it needs.
  • Emotional or psychological neglect: continuous lack of positive attention for the child. Ignoring the child’s need for love and security. This also includes cases in which children are witnesses to violence between their parents or caregivers.
  • Child Sexual abuse: sexual contact which an adult forces upon a child. This includes molestation, penetration, child pornography and prostitution.

Child sexual abuse, also called child molestation, is a form of abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. This includes fondling, penetration, exploitation, pornography, exhibitionism, child prostitution, group sex, oral sex, or forced observation of sexual acts.

Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent should be clearly and freely communicated.

According to the law, even if someone has indicated consent in some way, e.g., by saying ‘yes’ or by not resisting, there is no consent or permission granted for a sexual act:

  • If you are forced into an act of violence or the threat of violence to yourself, a loved one, or your property.
  • If you are drunk, drugged, asleep or unconscious. This means that if you have been drinking heavily or taking drugs, you cannot consent to sex.
  • If you are younger than 16 years old or mentally challenged.
  • If you are forced into consent by your boss or your teacher, e.g. if you are led to think that refusing sex will affect your position at work or your learning intuition.
  • If a professional or someone in authority has deceived you and made you believe you must submit to a sexual act for your physical, emotional, or spiritual health.

Compelled rape occurs when someone forces a third person to commit an act of sexual assault on another. Compelled rape and compelled self-sexual assault are both crimes. Therefore, it is also a crime to force someone else to masturbate. Another example of compelled rape would be a robber who breaks into a house and forces the residents into having sex with each other. Both parties are treated as victims in this incident, and the robber is charged with compelled rape.

Counselling is when two or more people are engaged in a helping relationship. One of them is the counsellor, who is trained, educated, qualified, and most often licensed and certified as the ‘supporter’, and the other(s) are the client(s) seeking help. The purpose of the relationship is that of the counsellor to support the client(s) to overcome trauma and solve issues, concerns or problems which arise.

Dating abuse is a type of domestic abuse. In abusive relationships, the pattern of controlling and/or violent behaviour often worsens over time. It can take many forms, including physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, and emotional, sexual, or economic abuse. It can affect people of any race, class, gender, ability, or sexual orientation.

Date rape, or acquaintance rape, describes forcing or coercing a victim into unwanted sexual activity by a friend, romantic suitor, or peer. This occurs through violence, verbal pressure, misuse of authority, use of incapacitating substances, or threat of violence.

A date rape drug is any drug and/or alcohol that incapacitates another person, making them vulnerable to sexual assault. Most commonly, a drug is slipped into a person’s drink (or food) without their knowledge so that they are less able to defend themselves against unwanted sexual contact and/or unable to remember what happened after they ingested the drug.

Rohypnol is a common sexual assault drug; it usually comes in tablet form and can easily be crushed and dissolved in liquids. Other common date rape drugs include GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid), Ketamine, and Benzodiazepines.

The term ‘domestic violence’ is used when there is a close relationship between the offender and the victim and relates to violent or aggressive behaviour within the home. Domestic violence is committed by someone in the victim’s domestic circle, which includes: partners and ex-partners, immediate family members, other relatives, and family friends. It is:

  • any form of abuse which includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, or economic harassment
  • damage to property
  • stalking
  • entry into a person’s property without their consent
    any other abusive or controlling behaviour that causes harm or may cause harm to a person’s health, safety, or well-being


More about Domestic Violence, read in our blog article. 

Emergency contraception refers to methods of contraception that can prevent pregnancy after sexual intercourse, including rape.

For example, the ‘morning-after-pill’ must be taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy. The ‘morning after pill’ in South Africa is freely available in public health facilities. It can also be bought over the counter at pharmacies.

Although the ‘morning-after-pill’ helps prevent unplanned pregnancy, they do not reduce the risk of contracting STIs or HIV after unprotected sex.

Emotional abuse involves controlling another person using emotions to criticize, embarrass, shame, blame, or otherwise manipulate them. While most common in dating, mental or emotional abuse can occur in any relationship, including among friends, family members, and colleagues.

The underlying goal of emotional abuse is to control the other person by discrediting, isolating, and silencing them. Signs of emotional abuse include: Yelling or swearing, name-calling or insults, mocking, threats and intimidation, ignoring or excluding, isolating, humiliating or denial of the abuse, and blaming the victim.

Feminism is the belief and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. It is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.

Forced marriage is when one and/or both parties have not personally expressed their full and free consent to the union. This sometimes occurs through emotional or psychological pressure, threats, physical violence, or abduction.

Forced marriage is a human rights violation and a harmful practice that disproportionately affects women and girls globally. Forced marriage is a human rights violation and a harmful practice that disproportionately affects women and girls globally.

Gang rape is forced sexual activity by multiple perpetrators on a non-consenting victim.

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that often occurs in abusive relationships. It is a manipulation tactic in which a person, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their own reality or doubt their sanity.

Grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust, and emotional connection with a child or an adult to manipulate, exploit and abuse them. People who are groomed can be sexually abused, exploited, or trafficked. Grooming can take place online or in person.

Anybody can be a groomer, regardless of age, gender, or race. While these tactics are often used against younger kids, teens, and vulnerable adults are also at risk.

Abusers will often start to touch a victim in ways that appear harmless, such as hugging, wrestling, and tickling, and later escalate to increasingly more sexual contact, such as massages or showering together.

Incest is sexual activity between family members or close relatives (blood relations), e.g., a father and daughter or a brother and sister. With or without consent, incest is a crime.

A common justification for prohibiting incest is avoiding inbreeding: Studies have confirmed an increase in genetic disorders due to inbreeding, such as blindness, hearing loss, neonatal diabetes, limb malformations, disorders of sex development, schizophrenia, and several others.

Intimate partner violence (IPV), or domestic violence, is a pattern of abusive behaviour in an intimate or romantic relationship. It causes physical, sexual, or psychological harm and includes acts of physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse, and controlling behaviours.

Love bombing is a manipulation tactic when someone overwhelms another with extreme displays of affection, adoration or gifts to gain control over or influence them. Signs of love bombing are:

  • Someone gives you excessive compliments.
  • Someone always wants to spend time with you.
  • Someone buys you expensive gifts all the time.
  • Someone guilt trips you for having boundaries.
  • Someone is texting, emailing, and calling too many times a day.
  • Someone is asking you to spend time with them rather than with friends.
  • Someone is mirroring all of your interests.

Marital rape or spousal rape describes sexual acts with one’s spouse without the spouse’s consent, whether married by civil, customary, or religious law.

Misogynoir combines ‘misogyny’ and ‘noir’ to describe the anti-black sexism and misogyny that black women face. Feminist Moya Bailey coined the term in 2010 to address misogyny directed toward black women in American visual and popular culture.

Negging is verbal, emotional abuse, a type of manipulation that involves lowering a person’s self-esteem. Negging is deployed by people who want to belittle, undermine, and control the people around them, intending to make the person overly desire and depend on the negger’s approval for self-esteem. Over time, negging can be highly destructive and dangerous to the person on the receiving end.

Patriarchy is a system of society or government in which men hold power and women are largely excluded from it. In this system, women are excluded from full political and economic participation. Patriarchal relations structure the private and public spheres, with men dominating domestic and public life.

According to the law, penetration can be any act that causes penetration to any extent by:

  • The genital organs of one person pass into or through the genital organs, anus, or mouth of another person.
  • Any other part of the body of one person or any object passing into or through the genital organs of another person.
  • The legal definition also includes instances where an animal is involved in the penetrative act.

Source: Rape Crisis CT Trust

Rape is the unlawful penetration of a victim’s body with any portion of the perpetrator’s body or with a foreign object. Rape is one of the many crimes that falls under the umbrella of sexual assault.

Some rape victims often think, “Was I raped?”.
Rape happens any time sexual intercourse takes place without consent. Many circumstances can indicate the lack of consent including:

  • An inability to give consent due to age
  • An inability to give consent due to diminished capacity (e.g. disability)
  • An inability to give consent due to inebriation (e.g. using drugs or alcohol)

Sometimes it is considered rape even if the victim did not say, “no” e.g.if a weapon is used. Sometimes victims are too concerned for their life or safety to say, “no.” This is still considered rape.

It still is considered rape even if:

  • The victim didn’t physically fight back
  • The victim used to date or were friends with the perpetrator (Date Rape)
  • The victim is married or engaged to the rapist (Marital Rape)
  • The victim does not remember the rape
  • The victim willingly ingest drugs or alcohol

Rape culture is a set of deeply entrenched societal attitudes and beliefs that normalise sexual violence and diminish its seriousness. It is demonstrated through media, language, and policy, promoting sexual objectification and coercion, lack of agency over one’s body, and dismissal of feminine-presenting or gender nonconforming individuals as not ‘fully human’.

Rape culture is ubiquitous in representing violence as ‘sexy’, ‘alluring’ and ‘hot’. These ideas pervade everything from the magazines we read, the movies we watch and the music we love, to the language we use to talk about sex, and the laws that govern bodies and behaviour. Rape culture relies on other systems of oppression to perpetuate victim blaming and gender inequity, including hegemonic masculinity and patriarchy.

Source: Harvard University office of sexual assault prevention & response

Revenge porn is a type of digital abuse in which nude or sexually explicit photos or videos are shared without the consent of those pictured. Revenge porn is closely related to sexual abuse and it is illegal in South Africa.

An example of revenge porn is, that a current or previous partner may share explicit images as “revenge” or threaten to distribute them as a type of blackmail.

Since 2020 revenge porn is illegal in South Africa, as President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Films and Publications Amendment Bill into law. The new law addresses hate speech, child pornography, and revenge porn. The bill states that “any person who knowingly distributes private sexual photographs and films in any medium including through the internet, without prior consent of the individual or individuals and where the individual or individuals in the photographs or films is identified or identifiable in the said photographs and films, shall be guilty of an offence and liable upon conviction”. The penalty for this offense may include a fine up to R300 000 or imprisonment for up to four years or both a fine and imprisonment.

Sexual assault is an act in which one intentionally sexually touches another person without that person’s consent, or coerces or forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will. It also includes any sexualised behaviour that makes a person feel uncomfortable, intimidated, threatened or frightened. Sexual assault can be, and often is, committed by people familiar to the survivor. This includes family members and significant others. Sexual assault encompasses rape, fondling, stalking and other crimes.

Sexual battery refers to nonconsensual sexual contact or touching of another’s intimate parts (clothed or unclothed) against the victim’s will. Sexual battery is a form of sexual assault.

Sexual coercion is a tactic used by perpetrators to intimidate, trick, pressure, threaten or force someone to have sex with them without physical force. Coercion can make you think you owe sex to someone, or have to submit to them. It might occur with someone who has power over you, like a teacher, landlord, or a boss.

Sexual exploitation is defined as an actual or attempted abuse of someone’s position of vulnerability (such as a person depending on you for survival, food rations, school, books, transport or other services), differential power or trust, to obtain sexual favours, including but not only, by offering money or other social, economic or political advantages. It includes trafficking and prostitution.

Source: UN Refugee Agency

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment includes a range of actions, from inappropriate sexual remarks to physical advances and sexual abuse or assault.

Harassment can occur in many professional and social settings, such as workplaces, homes, schools, universities, churches, etc. Harassers and victims may be of any gender. Sexual harassment is illegal.

Sexual Penetration is the act of entering through sexual intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, anal intercourse, or any other intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person’s body or any object into the genital or anal openings of another person’s body. Oral sex is considered to be sexual penetration as well.

Child sexual exploitation is the act of coercing, luring or engaging a child, under the age of 18, into a sexual action and involvement in the sex trade or pornography, with or without the child’s consent, in exchange for money, drugs, shelter, food, protection or other necessities. Child sexual exploitation of an individual under 18 is defined and interpreted as child abuse.

Sexual penetration is set out in the Sexual Offences Amendment Act in South Africa. 

Sex trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals are forced to perform commercial sex acts through the use of violence, manipulation, coercion, threats or false promises.

Minors under the age of 18 engaging in commercial sex are considered to be victims of human trafficking, regardless of the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

Sex traffickers frequently target victims and then use violence, threats, lies, false promises, or other forms of control and manipulation to keep victims involved in the sex industry for their own profit.

Sex trafficking exists within diverse and unique sets of venues and businesses including fake massage businesses, escort services, residential brothels, in public on city streets and in truck stops, strip clubs, hostess clubs, hotels and motels, and elsewhere.

Aside from commercial sex, victims in South Africa are forced into labour, agriculture, criminal activities, domestic services, and mining.


Sextortion is a form of blackmail that occurs when someone seeks to extort sexual favours from another, usually in exchage for something valuable, such as money, a job, protection, or so that they don’t reveal sensitive information or sexual material.

Sextortion is often perpetrated by people in positions of power who have it within their authority to grant or withhold certain things. Examples of sextortion include:

  • Government officials and police officers who demand sexual favours in exchange for licences, or other documents.
  • Teachers or professors who promise better grades to students if they will have sex with them.
  • Employers or those in management positions who require sexual favours as a condition for progressing employees into better positions or granting bonuses.
  • Current or previous romantic partners or those with access to sexual material such as explicit images – perpetrators will threaten to share sensitive information or images publicly. This may be to extort money or sexual favours from the victim.

Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender, particularly against women and girls. Sexism can be a belief that one sex is superior to or more valuable than another and promotes behaviour, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on gender.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also called Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are infections passed from one person to another through sexual contact. The contact is usually vaginal, oral, or anal, however STIs can sometimes be spread through other intimate physical contact.

The most common STIs are Syphilis, Genital herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis.

Statutory rape is the crime of sex with a child between the ages of 12 and 16. Even when both parties have agreed to the sexual act it is still considered rape because the minor is too young to legally consent to have sex or sexual contact.

A child of 12 or younger is considered too young to be able to give consent at all, and the rapist or pedophile will automatically be prosecuted.

If both parties involved in the sexual act are over the age of 12 but under the age of 16 and both consented, it is still a crime in the eyes of the law, but the authorities may decide not to prosecute.

A person can only legally consent to sex from the age of 16 onwards.

Source: Rape Crisis CT Trust

Stalking is the crime of illegally following and watching someone over a period of time. This continued harassment is done against the expressed wishes of the individual and causes them emotional distress. Stalking can take place in person and online.

The term ‘survivor’ describes someone who has experienced interpersonal violence. This term can be preferred to ‘victim’ as it reflects the reality that many individuals who experience abuse cope and move on with personal strength, and resourcefulness.

Victim blaming happens when someone who survived a crime or traumatic event is partly or entirely blamed for their experience and their response to that experience. People who victim blame believe the survivor had control over the situation and could have prevented it by being more careful or behaving better. Victim blaming often occurs in domestic violence and rape cases.