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Sexual Assault Definitions


Students who have experienced a sexual assault may struggle to understand what happened to them and to define their experience as a “sexual assault” or “rape”. This may happen due to the lack of knowledge and comfort levels with these terms, along with the lack of accurate information about what sexual assault is along with myths that are deeply embedded in our society concerning rape.


Sexual assault may be committed by boyfriends, girlfriends, friends, acquaintances, family, lovers, partners, and strangers and affects people of all ages, races, genders, sexualities, and abilities. Sexual violence does not discriminate. Sexual violence is often used as a way to hurt, humiliate or gain control over someone else. The fact that someone has been intimate with a partner in the past does not mean they have consented to any or all future sexual activity with that partner.


Sexual assault is defined as any sex act against someone’s will, without consent, or when someone is unable to freely give consent. In most sexual assaults, no weapon is used. Force can include the use of verbal, physical or emotional pressure or manipulation, substances, threats, coercion and/or the use of alcohol or other drugs. A person cannot freely give consent if they are unconscious, impaired by alcohol or drugs, underage, scared, forced, intimidated, coerced, mentally impaired, beaten, threatened, isolated, and/or physically impaired.


Sexual assault also includes other completed or attempted attacks involving unwanted sexual contact, such as touching, groping, and other forms of contact.


Rape and attempted rape are forms of sexual assault. The FBI updated the definition of rape in January 2012, and reads “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”


Many victims/survivors of sexual assault suffer in silence. This happens for many different reasons including: thinking they will not be believed; feelings of shame; guilt; or fear of retaliation from their attacker.


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Consent is permission, freely given by word or action, by all participants to a sexual act. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create mutually understandable permission regarding the conditions of sexual activity. Consent is active, not passive. Silence and/or absence of resistance cannot be interpreted as consent.”


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