Sexual violence - World Health Organization & legal definitions

World Health Organization

Sexual violence

The World Health Organization (Krug et al, 2002) 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”.

Krug, E.G. et al., eds. (2002). World report on violence and health. Geneva, World Health Organization

Child sexual abuse

The World Health Organization Report on the Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention (1999) defines child sexual abuse as follows:

“Child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society. Child sexual abuse is evidenced by this activity between a child and an adult or another child who by age or development is in a relationship of responsibility, trust or power, the activity being intended to gratify or satisfy the needs of the other person. This may include but is not limited to:

— the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity;

— the exploitative use of a child in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices;

— the exploitative use of children in pornographic performance and materials.” (p.62)

World Health Organization. (1999). Report of the Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention. Geneva, 29–31 March. Document WHO/HSC/PVI/99.1


The New Zealand Crimes Act 1961 contains the legal definitions of sexual offences (sections 127-144C).

Note: This page was created as pre-reading for the Auckland Regional Networking Meeting, Family and Sexual Violence held at Western Springs in September 2012.