Sexual Assault: A Definition

WHAT IS SEXUAL ASSAULT? Sexual assault is a legal term as well as a phrase that pertains to unwanted sexual contact. State laws vary* but the most common phrase used to define sexual assault is “an act of sexual penetration or intrusion without a person’s consent.” Sexual assault occurs when sexual contact is not consensual.

WHAT IS PENETRATION? Sexual penetration or intrusion can be vaginal, oral, or anal by any body part or object.

WHO IS A PERPETRATOR? Sexual assault, including rape and attempted rape, can be completed by anyone, including an acquaintance, boyfriend or girlfriend, spouse, sibling, stranger, or gang.

WHAT IS RAPE? Rape is not a legal term in some states. Rape is a term commonly used to describe acts of unwanted penetration. An attempted rape may be considered a sexual assault.

WHAT IS CHILD SEXUAL ASSAULT? Sexual assault of a child involves subjecting a person under 15 years old to any sexual contact if the perpetrator is 4 or more years older than the victim; or having sexual contact with someone under 17 if the perpetrator is at least 10 years older.*

WHO IS A MINOR? Sexual contact with anyone under the age of 18 by a person in a position of power or trust is considered sexual assault on a child. These laws apply to minors even if they think they consented to the sexual contact. Fondling or touching without consent are unlawful sexual contacts. This is a crime whether or not the victim is clothed.

WHAT IS CONSENT? Consent means that there is cooperation in act and/or attitude and there is an exercise of free will, with knowledge of the nature of the act. A child cannot consent, nor can an impaired person. Having a current or previous relationship with the perpetrator does not automatically constitute consent. Giving in to an act out of fear is submission, not consent.

State laws vary. Contact your state’s Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Prepared by Lynn C. Tolson, author of Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor’s Story

Disclaimer: these definitions are intended for informational purposes only