Home > About Sexual Assault > Definitions > What is Sexual Assault?

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is defined as any sexual activity involving a person who does not or cannot (due to alcohol, drugs, or some sort of incapacitation) consent. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, "sexual assault can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention."  Sexual assault is therefore somewhat of an umbrella term, and can describe many things, including:

  • rape, including partner and marital rape
  • unwanted sexual contact (touching or grabbing)
  • unwelcome exposure of another's body, exhibitionism, or voyeurism
  • child sexual abuse
  • incest or molestation
  • sexual harassment
  • sexual exploitation of clients by therapists, doctors, dentists, or other professionals

Sexual assault is an act of power. This can be obvious, like in a situation where the perpetrator has a weapon.  Sexual assault can also occur when physical force or a threat is used against the victim or someone the victim cares about.  However, physical coercion or force is not always present or necessary.  In some sexual assault, the violence is more subtle, like when the perpetrator's age, size, or status is used to scare, trick, or manipulate the victim.

Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. People of all ages, races, economic backgrounds, sexualities, and lifestyles have been victims. Males as well as females can be victims.  Everyone deserves help and support.

How to get Help:
If you are a sexual assault survivor, or you think you may have been a victim of sexual assault, peer support can be very helpful. Remember that it was not your fault.  Consider joining Pandora's Aquarium, a sexual assault online support group, message board, and chat room.

Additional Resources:
Rubbed the Wrong Way:  Sexual Assault and Massage - support for women and men who have experienced sexual assault by a massage practitioner

Remember to Breathe - Were you a victim of multiple instances of sexual assault?  This site supports survivors of revictimization.   Under construction but growing.

Inocencia Interrumpida - Mi historia de supervivencia al abuso sexual infantil
- Spanish language support for child sexual abuse survivors