About the Issue

No matter what the circumstances of this crime are, sexual violence is not motivated by sexual desire. Perpetrators commit assaults to dominate, exert power over, and hurt victims. It is never a survivor’s fault.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is a term that refers to unwanted sexual act against or without a person’s consent. It includes any sexual, physical, verbal, or visual act that forces a person to engage in sexual contact against their will or without their consent.

The terms sexual assault and sexual violence are often interchangeable. View the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network's State Law Database for details on what your state defines as sexual assault.

What is rape?

Rape is forced sexual intercourse, including any completed or attempted unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal penetration through the use of physical force (such as being pinned or held down, or by the use of violence) or threats to physically harm (such as killing the victim).

Survivors of sexual violence

Rape implies that a person isn't capable of consenting to the activity. For example, a person may be impaired by physical, mental, emotional circumstances, including under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A person’s status, such as their age, role, or relationship to the perpetrator, may also make the victim unable to give consent.

As with sexual assault, rape is defined differently in each state.

What is consent?

Consent is the approval or agreement given without force or coercion. Consent also means a person is capable of consciously agreeing to sexual acts. A person cannot give consent if they are impaired by a physical, mental, or emotional reasons, as well as their status by age, role, or relationship to the perpetrator.

If a victim does not fight the acts, it does not mean consent. A person may not fight as protection from being hurt even more.

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