Is Sexual Assault Worse Than Physical Assault?


Assault is almost always emotionally and physically challenging, which is why it leaves the victim traumatized on multiple levels. Whether an individual has experienced physical or sexual abuse, the damage may be irreversible and cause mental health problems for the rest of their life. However, there are certain differences between the two that need to be addressed. Those differences present themselves in the overall health state of the victim, societal perception, and the circumstances of the traumatic event. While physical assault is a crime, evidence shows that sexual abuse often leaves even more severe damage on the person that has experienced such treatment. Thus, sexual crimes, while less visible, cause considerable psychological distress, which is hard to overcome due to the emotional toll it has on individuals.

Visible vs. Invisible Trauma

It is certain that the traumas individuals deal with as a result of physical or sexual assault differ based on circumstances. In some cases, sexual crimes are not limited to the nonconsensual performance of sexual acts but also correlate with bodily trauma due to the perpetrator’s actions. Moreover, physical assault can also leave no visible marks depending on the case. However, oftentimes, there is a distinction between the two, which portrays itself in the visible or invisible injuries.

Physical Assault and Visible Injuries

Physical assault often presents itself with visible signs of a traumatic event. The signs are usually illustrated on the victim’s body and face through several types of injuries. These can be bruises, fractures, bites, cuts, concussions, and other types of physical damage that can easily be identified and diagnosed. In this regard, it is easier to spot signs that suggest the victim has experienced corporeal trauma. If a person goes to the police to report physical abuse, the officers will often have evidence without performing medical examinations because bruises and broken bones are hard to miss. Thus, there is a greater chance that the victim will be believed right away, and law enforcement will get involved in investigating the circumstances.

Sexual Assault and Invisible Injuries

Sexual assault is different than physical one in terms of visible signs. Oftentimes, the victim is threatened and cannot fight back, which is why bruises and other injuries may not occur during such assaults. This is both beneficial and negative due to the several different outcomes. On the one hand, the victim is less likely to experience long-term health damage. On the other hand, they cannot easily prove they have been sexually assaulted.

While physical altercations leave marks, that police can quickly identify, proving that someone was forced to perform sexual acts requires effort. Even if the perpetrator’s DNA is found, the individual experiencing the abuse has to provide evidence to highlight the lack of consent, which is challenging. Rapes are, oftentimes, cases that cannot be solved, and the abusers can avoid prosecution due to a lack of direct evidence. This is challenging for those who suffered from sexual crimes and for the judicial system as a whole. Thus, in this regard, sexual assault is more harmful due to the victim’s inability to prove the lack of consent and the helplessness in regards to punishing the criminal.

Shame and Guilt

As mentioned prior, a significant factor that makes sexual crimes worse is the victim’s frequent inability to prove that the encounter was not agreed upon by both parties. This makes multiple victims apprehensive about contacting the police and pressing charges against the perpetrator. However, it is essential to mention other reasons why those experiencing such crimes are less likely to talk about what happened. In regards to physical assaults, the victim often feels shame and guilt in case the abuse is perpetrated by a loved one or a family member. If the encounter involves a stranger, these feelings are less likely to occur. In the case of sexual crimes, shame and guilt often haunt the victims and cause them to isolate themselves and suffer quietly.

Sexuality is a subject that is interpreted differently depending on one’s beliefs. A person’s stand on this topic may be influenced by religious background, area of living, community, and other circumstances. Parents often have different approaches when it comes to explaining sex to girls and boys. In regards to boys, parents pay less attention to consent and more attention to using protection.

However, multiple girls are taught that sex is bad, which creates a psychological link between sex and shame or guilt. Thus, in case the individual goes through such experiences, there is a chance that instead of blaming the perpetrator, the victim will feel like it was their fault. According to researchers, stigma and victim-blaming play a significant role in emotional distress (Bhuptani and Messman-Moore 309). In the case of family members, the community, and society blaming the sexual assault on the victim, there is a risk for the development of feelings of guilt and shame.


Sexual assault is almost always a portrayal of domination and power over the victim. Physical assault, which often correlates with dominant behavior, may also be caused by other circumstances. Revenge, robbery, and other possible factors may be triggers for perpetrators to use force. On the other hand, sexual abuse cannot be explained by either of these aspects. It is closely related to domination, fulfillment of sexual urges, and humiliation.

Sexual vs. Physical Assault in Prisons and at War

Stressful environments are more likely to unleash a person’s intrinsic desires to cause harm and show dominance. This is often the case in prisons and during wars. It is certain that incarceration is closely linked to physical altercations among inmates. However, it is important to mention that there are different connotations when it comes to being beaten or being raped in a prison setting. A male that engages in fights is usually not treated differently depending on the outcome. Thus, if a prisoner is attacked, the situation does not significantly harm the reputation of the person. If an inmate is sexually assaulted, this is viewed as a sign of weakness and emasculation. In this case, sexual crimes are much more psychologically damaging for the prisoners.

A similar situation occurs during wars, which are based on violence and physical harm as the core of such conflicts. War is synonymous with physical harm, but not much attention is paid to sexual crimes. Researchers point out that sex is a method of humiliation and punishment of enemies during conflicts (Siddique 1). In this case, while soldiers choose to go to war knowing that they will experience physical harm, sexual abuse is not a necessity and is only used as a way to show domination and humiliate the other party. In this regard, it can be noted that sex acts performed during wars without consent are more psychologically harmful than other forms of violence.

Emotional vs. Physical Damage

As mentioned before, physical assault is often visible through injuries that the victim has. However, it is vital to highlight that such crimes may lead to severe implications. According to researchers, violent injuries often correlate with life-long health problems (Bell et al. 175). The victims may experience brain injuries, heart problems, internal damage, or aesthetical changes that will be permanent.

Moreover, individuals may be permanently disabled because of the physical assault that has left them injured. In the case of long-term health effects, such attacks are more severe. However, is it vital to refer to the other side of effects, specifically, the impact on one’s mental well-being. It is certain that violence in every form damages a person’s psychological health. Moreover, physical assaults correlate with such conditions as PTSD and other stress-related diseases. While there is a need to address emotional well-being in physical assault victims, more correlations between poor mental health and sexual violence exist.

Sexual assault and emotional damage are two interconnected concepts. Researchers mention depression, PTSD, feelings of shame, and self-isolation as prevalent among victims (DeCou et al. 166). There is emotional vulnerability the is derived from the intimate intrusion. Such a harsh perception of sexual assaults may be explained by taking into consideration the notions of sexuality, integrity, and privacy. A nonconsensual intimate act creates an emotional response as a result of the perpetrator’s dismissal of the victim’s integrity and privacy. There is certainly a boundary that is being crossed during sexual assaults, which leaves a person hopeless and vulnerable. Once the boundary is overstepped, the victim may feel as if they have lost control over their lives. Such intense emotions are linked to the ambiguous notion of sexuality that most people interpret differently.

Society and Sexuality

It is essential to mention that sexuality has always been a subject of discussion in regards to what is prohibited and what is encouraged. Moreover, history shows that for the longest time, women were especially limited in pursuing their physical desires. However, nowadays, the situation has changed for the better in most world countries. Nonetheless, there is still stigma correlating with sexuality, and both males and females engaging in either premarital or any other type of sexual activity experience it. Thus, the stigma creates an environment in which sex is often considered shameful and a subject that does not need to be brought up.

There are several complications that derive from the concept of sexual stigma. First, victims of sexual assault may not want to open up about their experience because this would require them to be honest about their personal lives. Thus, the victim would have to prove that what happened was assault and not a consensual act. In order for the justice system to punish the criminal, the person who has experienced sexual violence would have to cooperate with the law enforcement even if it means privacy invasion. Since sexuality is stigmatized, individuals may want to avoid opening up about their struggles since this would involve a possible loss of reputation in the eyes of their family, friends, and community.

While these are intrinsic doubts, victims may meet with resistance and blame in real life. Suppose an individual goes to the police after the assault has happened. As mentioned prior, proving sexual assault is much more complicated than providing evidence of physical assaults. A lack of bruises, video evidence, and other vital clues may compromise the case. However, an even more devastating effect is the distrust in what the victim sees. Thus, even if one has the courage to report sexual misconduct, the result may illustrate itself in distrust and victim-blaming. This is especially highlighted in cases that become popular due to media coverage.

Sexual vs. Physical Assault in the Media

The media often portrays stories both covering physical and sexual assault. Nonetheless, there is a major difference between the public’s reaction to one versus the other. Physical assaults are often portrayed in a relatively concise matter. The scenario usually refers to the good party and the bad one, which is rarely debated by the audience. Thus, it is easy to look at the situation, identify the victim, and move on to the following news. It is relatively rare for such news to be ambivalent in regards to the motive, the perpetrator, and the person who suffered as a result of the violent actions. More often, the roles are clear, and no in-depth analysis is needed to assess whether someone has committed the crime or not. However, the approach is different in the case of sexual assault.

Sexual assault stories are often the subject of debates when news outlets cover them. As suggested prior, a lack of evidence is a major reason why many sexual predators cannot be prosecuted for what they have done. Nonetheless, law enforcement cannot punish someone based on assumptions, which is a logical way of operating. However, the general public appears to have the same approach when it comes to assessing news related to sexual misconduct. Thus, a lack of evidence is often linked to victim-blaming. It is certain that such a critical approach is partly influenced by the multiple rape accusations that have been proven to be misleading and untrue. Moreover, the alleged victims who press the charges before they are legally deemed fake or untrue are rarely prosecuted for the lies and for ruining someone’s life. There are multiple situations similar to the previous scenario, so the audience is often apprehensive about believing the victim if no comprehensive evidence is provided.

This factor highlights how experiencing sexual assault correlates with more emotional difficulties in comparison with physical abuse. Victims have to deal with the emotional pain of the event itself, societal stigma, and disbelief. All these aspects are not only damaging for the individuals looking for justice but also for the future victims. A person who sees that victims cannot receive justice and are often ridiculed by a large number of people is less likely to report such crimes. In addition to the adverse emotional effects, people who do not report such crimes contribute to the cycle of abuse continuing to affect others.


An instance in which physical assault is more damaging to victims is how the perpetrators are portrayed. It is certain that sexual abuse cases with solid evidence do not leave society merciful towards the accused. Thus, if all the evidence shows that an individual has committed a sexual crime, the public will most likely be extraordinarily judgemental and hateful towards that person. This reflects on the general opinion of sexual crimes being unacceptable.

On the other hand, there is a clear distinction in how relatively indifferent people are towards physical assault. Such crimes are not as widely discussed in the media and prosecuted so harshly. Physical assaults are often perceived to be one-time events. Thus, few individuals understand the emotional repercussions of being attacked. The overall passive societal opinion on physical assault, which remains a crime against one’s health and integrity, creates an unfair environment.


Both sexual and physical assault are traumatic experiences that leave long-term emotional damage on an individual experiencing such tragic events. However, there are certain aspects that make sexual crimes worse in terms of their perception, outcomes, societal overview, and legal implications. Sexual assaults are more harmful in regards to the shame and guilt the victims often feel. Moreover, people often engage in victim-blaming if enough evidence is not presented to suggest the crimes actually happened. Sexuality is a taboo subject for many people, which is why those experiencing sexual abuse may feel isolated and ashamed to talk about it.

However, in terms of physical damage, violent attacks are often more challenging to deal with. Moreover, society appears to be more tolerant of physical crimes in comparison to sexual abuse backed up by evidence. It is certain that every action based on violence and a lack of consent is harmful in regards to mental and physical well-being. Nonetheless, victims of sexual abuse who went through intimate intrusion are more vulnerable to difficulties overcoming the traumatic event.

Works Cited

Bell, Teresa M., et al. “Long-Term Evaluation of a Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program Using a Regional Health Information Exchange.” Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, vol. 84, no. 1, 2018, pp. 175–182. Web.

Bhuptani, Prachi H., and Terri L. Messman-Moore. “Blame and Shame in Sexual Assault.” Handbook of Sexual Assault and Sexual Assault Prevention, 2019, pp. 309–322. Web.

DeCou, Christopher R., et al. “Assault-Related Shame Mediates the Association between Negative Social Reactions to Disclosure of Sexual Assault and Psychological Distress.” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, vol. 9, no. 2, 2017, pp. 166–172. Web.

Siddique, Julie Ahmad. “War and Rape.” The Encyclopedia of Women and Crime, 2019, pp. 1–5. Web.

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