WHAT IS SEXUAL ASSAULT?

Some information on this page might be triggering for survivors of sexual violence.

​Please read with care.

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Sexual assault is a comprehensive term used to describe any attempted or completed sexual act against a person's will or against a person who is unable to give consent.  Sexual assault covers everything from harassment and indecent exposure to child molestation, incest, and rape.  It is motivated by the need to control, humiliate, and harm.  ANYONE can perpetrate the assault - a stranger, an acquaintance, a person in a position of power or trust, a friend, an intimate partner, or even a relative.  Even though the victim may not experience any physical injuries or scars, a sexual assault is ALWAYS a violent crime.  Force can include physical violence, verbal threats, overpowering the person, using a weapon, drugging someone, abusing authority or taking advantage of someone or their situation.  For example, a person who is incapacitated from drugs or alcohol, cannot mentally understand sex, or is under anesthesia cannot consent to sex.

Remember, there is no "right" response to sexual assault and every victim will react differently, but some possible reactions are listed below:

PHYSICAL REACTIONS MAY INCLUDE:

General soreness or tension
Sleep disturbances or nightmares
Appetite disturbances
Sexually transmitted infections
Pregnancy

EMOTIONAL REACTIONS MAY INCLUDE:

Fear, shock, numbness
Humiliation, degradation
Guilt, shame, embarrassment
Anger, desire for revenge
Mood swings
Anxiety
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Depression

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WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT?

Sexual assault can take many different forms, but one thing remains the same: it’s never the victim’s fault.

Information provided by RAINN and the Center

WHAT IS SEXUAL ASSAULT?

The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include:

  • Attempted rape

  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching

  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body

  • Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape

WHAT IS RAPE?

Rape is a form of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape. The term rape is often used as a legal definition to specifically include sexual penetration without consent. For its Uniform Crime Reports, the FBI defines rape as “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.” To see how your state legally defines rape and other forms of sexual assault, visit RAINN's State Law Database.

WHAT IS FORCE?

Force doesn’t always refer to physical pressure. Perpetrators may use emotional coercion, psychological force, or manipulation to coerce a victim into non-consensual sex. Some perpetrators will use threats to force a victim to comply, such as threatening to hurt the victim or their family or other intimidation tactics.

WHO ARE THE PERPETRATORS?

The majority of perpetrators are someone known to the victim. Approximately seven out of 10 of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, such as in the case of intimate partner sexual violence or acquaintance rape.

The term “date rape” is sometimes used to refer to acquaintance rape. Perpetrators of acquaintance rape might be a date, but they could also be a classmate, a neighbor, a friend’s significant other, or any number of different roles. It’s important to remember that dating, instances of past intimacy, or other acts like kissing do not give someone consent for increased or continued sexual contact.
In other instances the victim may not know the perpetrator at all. This type of sexual violence is sometimes referred to as stranger rape. Stranger rape can occur in several different ways:

  • Blitz sexual assault: when a perpetrator quickly and brutally assaults the victim with no prior contact, usually at night in a public place

  • Contact sexual assault: when a perpetrator contacts the victim and tries to gain their trust by flirting, luring the victim to their car, or otherwise trying to coerce the victim into a situation where the sexual assault will occur

  • Home invasion sexual assault: when a stranger breaks into the victim's home to commit the assault


Survivors of both stranger rape and acquaintance rape often blame themselves for behaving in a way that encouraged the perpetrator. It’s important to remember that the victim is a never to blame for the actions of a perpetrator.

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