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What is Sexual Violence?

Sexual violence is also a pervasive crime in our country. Many survivors do not report for fear of retaliation, fear that they won’t be believed, and because they blame themselves for what happened.

The exact definition of “rape” and “sexual assault” differs by state. Many states use the words interchangeably but there is a distinction between the two. For a precise legal definition, you need to check the law in your state. But here are some general guidelines based on the definitions used by the U.S. Justice Department and Office of Justice Programs.

Rape: The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, against the victim’s will and without their consent.

Sexual Assault: Unwanted sexual contact up to but not including penetration—that is attempted or completed against a victim’s will and without their consent.

  • Intentional touching of the victim’s genitals, anus, groin, or breasts.
  • Voyeurism.
  • Exposure to exhibitionism.
  • Undesired exposure to pornography.
  • Public display of images that were taken in a private context or when the victim was unaware.

In both rape and sexual assault, a victim cannot give consent if s/he is under the age of 18, has a disability (mental or physical), or is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  Rape and sexual assault may involve actual or threatened physical force, use of weapons, coercion, intimidation, or pressure. In about 8 out of 10 rapes, no weapon is used other than physical force. Anyone may be a victim of rape; women, men, children, straight or gay.