By exercising sexual violence, the perpetrators usually attack the victims on the physical and on the psychological level simultaneously. However, the form of the attack can vary. Some forms of sexual violence have a very strong physical component and produce intense pain or lasting damage to the external sexual characteristics, e.g.:

  • Sexual torture: e.g. blows/kicks to the genital area, the squeezing, tying or burning of the penis and/or testicles, electric shocks, cuts, insertion of objects into the urinary tract
  • Castration: forcible removal or severe damage of the external sexual characteristics

Other forms also take place on the physical level, but more than that, they target the sexuality or sexual identity of the victims, e.g.:

  • Rape: Penetration of the mouth or anus of the victim with objects (e.g. bottles, sticks, weapons) or genitals of the perpetrators.
  • Forced sexual acts: The perpetrators force the victims to perform sexual acts with other victims (other prisoners, family members). This is often enforced at gunpoint and with threats of further violence if the victims refuse to perform the acts.

Some forms of violence take place more on the psychological level than on the physical level and trigger extreme feelings of shame or fear in those affected. These include, for example:

  • Forced nudity over a long period of time, possibly with other people in a confined space or accompanied by humiliating sexual comments.
  •  Photographs or videos of naked prisoners, possibly in humiliating postures.
  • Threats of sexual violence


When sexual violence is committed against men, very often the perpetrators themselves are also men. An important study from Congo reports that 94% of the male victims interviewed stated that the perpetrators themselves were also men. However, there are female perpetrators as well, especially in the military context. We know that the following groups or persons have shown to be often the perpetrators of sexual violence:

  • Soldiers and militias
  • Political or religious rebels
  • Prison guards
  • Policemen
  • Soldiers of the United Nations peacekeeping forces
  • Members of the family and the social environment
  • Border guards
  • Human traffickers / Smugglers
  • Local population in transit and arrival countries

Power relations and motives

There is always an unequal power relation between the perpetrator(s) and the victim(s) in the respective situation. This power relationship can appear in different ways (and of course, these different relationships often do intersect):

  • A political power relationship between those in power and members of a political minority, exercised e.g. by imprisoning political opponents.
  • A situational power relationship, established e.g. through the threat of (armed) violence in a particular situation.
  • A social power relationship, e.g. through social discrimination and stigmatization of people who are LGBTQ*.
  • An economic power relationship, e.g. between refugees and the local population in transit or host countries.

Depending on the situation, the motives of sexual violence show similarities, but also differences.

  • In context of armed conflicts, political persecution and imprisonment, the main purpose of violence is to cause the victims to feel shame and humiliation. The perpetrators know that with this form of violence, they are not only attacking the body, but also the identity and psychological integrity of the person affected. Often, however, it is not only the person concerned who is to be attacked and devalued, but also his or her community of origin. The affected person is thus sometimes seen as a representative of his group, and the humiliation is aimed at him and simultaneously at the whole group.
  • During migration and flight processes, for example at border crossings, sexualized violence often serves not only to humiliate those affected, but also expresses racist attitudes and may also be intended to deter them from continuing their flight.
  • The motive towards LGBTQ* persons is usually somewhat different. Here it is also about humiliating the person, but at the same time it is about demonstrating that in the eyes of the perpetrator, the identity of the person is wrong or "must not exist". The person is stigmatized and marked as "inferior".
  • Finally, the sexual gratification of the perpetrators can also be a motive. This is especially the case when the perpetrators take advantage of the economic hardship of refugee boys and young men to sexually exploit them.