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What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any sexual contact, including but not limited to intercourse (rape), that occurs without consent and/or through coercion.

     Consent is a clear and freely given agreement for sexual contact.

    • Consent is an ongoing process — consent to kissing does not necessarily mean consent to other sexual activity.
    • Also, consent to sexual activity on one occasion does not necessarily mean continual consent — everyone involved must give and receive consent to sexual activity every time, even when involved in a long-term relationship or marriage.
    • Saying nothing is not the same thing as consent, and non-resistance is not the same thing as consent.
    • In order for consent to exist, everyone involved must be fully conscious, aware of the situation and free of any coercion.
    • Anyone under the age of 18 is a minor, and is considered not capable of giving informed consent.

    Coercion is any kind of pressure or persuasion used to influence a person’s decision to engage in sexual activity. Coercion can be physical, verbal or emotional.

    • Physical coercion is the most recognizable kind of pressure and includes actions such as holding someone down or continued kissing or sexual activity even when being told “no” or being pushed away.
    • Verbal coercion includes behaviors like threats of physical violence, blackmailing, lying, name-calling or asking repeatedly for sexual involvement after being told “no.”
    • Emotional coercion is the most subtle type of pressure and includes actions like making someone feel obligated or guilty for not wanting to engage in sexual activity, using peer pressure, threatening to break up, etc.
    • Sexual assault can happen to both men and women, and both men and women can be sexual assailants. It also can happen between people of the same sex.
    • Sexual assault can occur between strangers or people who know each other, even those who are in a long-term relationship or are married.

    Sexual assault is not about sex or an assailant’s sexual desires. It's about exerting power and control over another person. This means that regardless of how someone dresses or acts or where or how they choose to spend their time, a person who is sexually assaulted is never to blame for the assault. The only person responsible for the assault is the assailant.