What Is Sexual Assault?

Sexual Assault

Any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.

Sexual assault is an umbrella term that refers to sexual activity that you don't want or are forced to do. Often, people think that only forced intercourse, or rape, is really sexual assault, but any sexual activity performed without permission constitutes sexual assault. This can include kissing, exhibitionism (showing someone your genitals without permission), groping, and rape. Victims of sexual assault might be convinced to do sexual acts through verbal or physical threats or by taking or being given alcohol or drugs.

What is Consent?


An agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.

Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. Without consent, all sexual activity is considered assault. There are many ways to give consent, not all of which are verbal--although verbally agreeing to different sexual activities can help you and your partner(s) establish and respect each other's boundaries.

Ultimately, consent is about communication, and needs to happen every time and every step of the way. Giving consent for one activity does not translate into consent for all activities, and giving consent once does not mean giving consent for future sexual activities. If you have had sex with someone in the past, it doesn't give them permission to have sex with you in the future.

It is important to remember that when it comes to consent, you can change your mind at any time. If you are uncomfortable, tell your partner(s) that you are no longer comfortable and want to stop. If they do not stop, they no longer have your consent and any further sexual contact is considered assault.

What Does Consent Look Like?

Positive consent, sometimes referred to as “enthusiastic consent,” can look like:
  • Communicating with your partner(s) when changing the type or degree of sexual activity by asking questions like “Is this okay?”
  • Explicitly agreeing to specific activities, either by saying “yes,” or with phrases like “I'm open to trying.”
  • Using physical cues to let your partner(s) know that you are comfortable taking things to the next level.
Consent does not look like:
  • Refusing to acknowledge “no.”
  • Assuming that certain behaviors (such as flirting or kissing) or clothing is an invitation for further sexual activity.
  • Someone being under the legal age of consent. This refers to the age someone must be in order to be legally capable of consenting to sexual activity. The age of consent is different depending on where you live. In most states, this age is 18, but you should check your specific state's age of consent.
  • Someone being incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol. Even if it seems like they wanted to before, and unconscious person cannot consent.
  • Pressuring someone into sexual activity using fear, intimidation, or simple persistence.
  • Assuming that you have permission to engage in sexual activity because you've done so in the past.