Definitions

A variety of terms have been used to describe nonconsensual sexual behavior, including sexual assault, sexual violence, sexual aggression, sexual abuse, sexual coercion, attempted rape, and completed rape. The definitions for each of these terms may vary slightly from source to source. The terms are often used in a general way and are not usually reflective of specific legal terminology (which varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction). Definitions for the terms used in this chapter are provided below.

As noted earlier, sexual assault refers to any type of sexual contact that is not consented to by one of the persons involved. This term thus has a fairly broad definition that includes a wide scope of behaviors ranging from nonconsensual sexual kissing or touching to nonconsensual oral, anal, or vaginal sex.1 According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the term rape refers to a completed nonconsensual sex act in which the perpetrator (person committing the rape) penetrates the victim's vagina, anus, or mouth with a penis, hand, finger, or other object.2 In an attempted rape, the perpetrator attempts, but does not complete, the nonconsensual sex act. Finally, nonconsensual or abusive sexual contact is defined by the CDC as "intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person without his or her consent, or of a person who is unable to consent or refuse" (p. 9).2 Consent generally means that at the time of the sexual activity, there were actual words or actions that indicated freely given agreement to have that sexual activity. Thus, if one's "agreement" is forced, coerced, or pressured, this is not considered "consent" because the agreement was not freely given.

"How can you not take 'no' for an answer? If they don't take 'no' for an answer, then they're raping you."

—Twenty-five-year-old African American woman

Moreover, the ability to give consent may be affected by a number of factors, including age (being a minor), temporary or permanent physical or mental disability, drug or alcohol intoxication (self-induced or forced), or language barriers. For example, a person who has passed out due to alcohol intoxication is not capable of providing consent to sexual intercourse or other sexual activity. Importantly, a lack of resistance to the assault (such as fighting back) does not indicate that the person consented to the sexual activity.

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