Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity or contact, including rape, that happens without your consent. Sexual assault can include non-contact activities, such as someone “flashing” you (exposing themselves to you) or forcing you to look at sexual images.1

Sexual assault can include2:

  • Any type of sexual contact with someone who cannot consent, such as someone who is underage (as defined by state laws), has an intellectual disability, or is passed out (such as from drugs or alcohol) or unable to respond (such as from sleeping)
  • Any type of sexual contact with someone who does not consent
  • Rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Sexual coercion
  • Sexual contact with a child
  • Fondling or unwanted touching above or under clothes

Sexual assault can also be verbal, visual, or non-contact. It is anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual activities or attention. Other examples can include3:

  • Voyeurism, or peeping (when someone watches private sexual acts without consent)
  • Exhibitionism (when someone exposes himself or herself in public)
  • Sexual harassment or threats
  • Forcing someone to pose for sexual pictures
  • Sending someone unwanted texts or “sexts” (texting sexual photos or messages)

What does “consent” mean?4
Consent is a clear “yes” to sexual activity. Not saying “no” does not mean you have given consent. Sexual contact without consent is sexual assault or rape. Your consent means:

  • You know and understand what is going on (you are not unconscious, blacked out, asleep, underage, or have an intellectual disability).
  • You know what you want to do.
  • You are able to say what you want to do or don’t want to do.
  • You are aware that you are giving consent (and are not impaired
  • by alcohol or drugs).

Sometimes you cannot give legal consent to sexual activity or contact — for example, if you are:

  • Threatened, forced, coerced, or manipulated into agreeing
  • Not physically able to (you are drunk, high, drugged, passed out, or asleep)
  • Not mentally able to (due to illness or disability)
  • Under the age of legal consent


  • Consent is an ongoing process, not a one-time question. If you consent to sexual activity, you can change your mind and choose to stop at any time, even after sexual activity has started.
  • Past consent does not mean future consent. Giving consent in the past to sexual activity does not mean your past consent applies now or in the future.
  • Saying “yes” to a sexual activity is not consent for all types of sexual activity. If you consent to sexual activity, it is only for types of sexual activities that you are comfortable with at that time with that partner. For example, giving consent for kissing does not mean you are giving consent for someone to remove your clothes.
  • Every 98 seconds another American is sexually assaulted.7
  • About 40% of women who have been raped, were assaulted before age 18.5
  • 1 in 2 women (51%) and 1 in 6 men (17%) were sexually touched in an unwelcome way.
  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted).7
  • About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.7
  • One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.7
  • In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the perpetrator.
  • 91% of victims of rape and sexual assault are female, and nine percent are male.
  • 20% – 25% of college women and 15% of college men are victims of forced sex during their time in college.

Survivors may experience some of the following responses:8


  • Fear responses to reminders of the assault
  • Pervading sense of anxiety, wondering whether it is possible to ever feel safe again
  • Re-experiencing assault over and over again through flashbacks
  • Problems concentrating and staying focused on the task at hand
  • Guilty feelings
  • Developing a negative self-image, feeling “dirty” inside or out
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Disruptions in close relationships
  • Loss of interest in sex



Someone who is planning to commit sexual assault often9


  • Identifies someone who will be easily controlled — someone who is younger, new to campus, or has consumed a lot of alcohol or drugs
  • Acts very attentive and flattering towards a potential victim to get the person’s guard down
  • Attempts to get the person more intoxicated and less able to resist gives them more alcohol or drugs
  • Gradually increases physical contact or sexual comments/jokes to “test” a potential victim’s boundaries (victim may feel uncomfortable but worry about causing a scene or hurting the other person’s feelings)
  • Separates potential victim from other people by getting them to leave social gathering, take a walk, etc.
  • After an assault, tries to confuse victim by acting as if nothing is wrong, shifting responsibility for what happened to victim, following up with texts or messages to make it seem like this was a consensual encounter
  • After an assault, brags to friends about incident and assumes that others believe this behavior is acceptable



Confused about what happened? Does what happened constitute sexual abuse/assault? RAINN has a Web page to outline different types of sexual violence.

Awareness and assertive behavior may be your best defense against becoming an “easy target”.10

  • Hold your head up; walk confidently, directly and at a steady pace.
  • If you feel you are in danger of being attacked try to escape the situation by running away from it if you can.
  • Try in any way you can to attract attention to yourself. Screaming “Call 911” or “Fire” is a good way to accomplish this.
  • If you are being followed, head for a well-lit area where you think there will be other people who may be able to help you.
  • Stay alert and aware. Know where the exits are if you are in a building. In crowded places such as nightclubs, always let someone know where you will be. Do not go to isolated places in a building, if you must go, take a friend. Always turn around and look at whoever may be behind you.
  • If you walk or jog for exercise, try to vary your route and time on the street. To be predictable is risky.
  • Take a self-defense course.
  • Trust your “gut instincts.” If a person, place or situation makes you uneasy, leave or change it immediately.
    If you are in an emergency situation and have access to a telephone, call 911.
  • When returning to your car, make sure your keys are in your hand, ready for use in unlocking the door and turning on the ignition. They can also be used as a weapon, should that become necessary.
  • Be aware of “Date Rape” drugs. The drugs (Rohypnol, GHB) are odorless and tasteless and can be easily slipped into soft drinks, juices or alcoholic drinks undetected. Do not leave your beverage unattended or accept something to drink from someone you do not know well and trust.
  • Know your sexual limits. What you want is critical, and you need to know what that is. Be assertive about your limits. You have the right to say “no.”
  • Communicate your desires. Communication leads to stronger and more fulfilling relationships.

For more tips click here.


After a sexual assault, you may feel fear, shame, guilt, or shock. All of these feelings are normal, and each survivor can feel a different range of emotions at different times in the recovery process. Sexual assault is never your fault. It may be frightening to think about talking about the assault, but it is important to get help. You can call 24/7. The calls are free and confidential. *These numbers can show up on your phone bill or history, so try to use a public phone or a friend’s cell phone.


  1. Breiding, M.J., Basile, K.C., Smith, S.G., Black, M.C., Mahendra, R.R. (2015). Intimate Partner Violence Surveillance: Uniform Definitions and Recommended Data Elements, Version 2.0. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Department of Justice. (2016)Sexual Assault.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Understanding Sexual Violence.
  5. Smith, S.G., Chen, J., Basile, K.C., Gilbert, L.K., Merrick, M.T., Patel, N., et al. (2017). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010-2012 State Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  8. Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, “Who Does It Impact?” ( (November 1, 2012)