Definitions of Sexual Assault Terminology

Terminology related to sexual violence.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment or academic status, (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis of employment or academic decisions affecting that individual, or (3) such conduct is sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent that it has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working, educational, or social environment. Sexual harassment includes a full range of coercive and unwelcome behaviors, such as sexually suggestive, demeaning or graphic comments, unwelcome sexual advances or sexual contact, sexual intimidation through physical threats, and other verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

This is a broad term that encompasses any attempted or completed act of violence, either physical or psychological, carried out through sexual means or by targeting sexuality, including unwanted sexual comments or advances, verbal harassment, sexual assault or abuse, sexual exploitation, and rape. The perpetrator of sexual violence may be a stranger, acquaintance, friend, family member, or intimate partner.

Acts of sexual violence may be committed by any person upon any other person, regardless of the sex, gender, sexual orientation and/or gender identity of those involved. The issue in any case is not the gender or gender identity of the persons involved but the acts.

Consistent with federal law, Colgate defines sexual assault as including:

Non-Consensual Sexual Intercourse. Sexual assault of this type includes 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, forcibly or without affirmative consent or where the victim is incapable of affirmative consent due to mental or physical incapacity. This type of sexual assault also includes non-forcible sexual intercourse with a person who is under the statutory age of consent. In New York, the statutory age of consent is 17 years old.

Non-Consensual Sexual Contact. This form of sexual assault includes any intentional touching, however slight, for purposes of sexual gratification or with sexual intent, of the private body parts (including genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks) of another person without affirmative consent. This may include non-penetrative acts, touching directly or with an object, and/or touching the private body parts of another over clothing. This may also include forcing or causing another without affirmative consent to touch one's own private body parts.

When one takes non-consensual sexual advantage of another. Examples of sexual exploitation include but are not limited to observing or recording others engaged in sexual or private activity (such as undressing or showering) without the consent of all involved; or taking intimate pictures of another but then distributing the pictures to others without the photographed person’s consent or in a way that exceeds the bounds of consent; or exposing one’s genitals in non-consensual circumstances; or engaging in sexual activity with another while knowingly infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) without informing the other person of such infection. knowledge or consent.

Consent to some sexual contact (such as kissing or fondling) cannot be presumed to be consent for other sexual activity (such as intercourse). A current or previous dating relationship is not sufficient to constitute consent. Further, past consent to engage in sexual activity with any person cannot be presumed to be consent to sexual activity in the future with the same or a different person. The existence of consent is based on the totality of the circumstances, including the context in which the alleged incident occurred and any similar previous patterns that may be evidenced. A person can withdraw consent at any time during sexual activity by expressing in words or actions that they no longer want the act to continue. When consent is withdrawn or can no longer be given, the other person must stop immediately.

A person cannot consent if that individual is incapacitated. Incapacitation is defined as a state where someone lacks the ability to knowingly choose to participate in a specific activity. Incapacity may be caused by the lack of consciousness, sleep, involuntary restraint, or other factors that prevent voluntary choice. Depending on the degree of intoxication, someone who is under the influence of alcohol, drugs or other intoxicants may be incapacitated and therefore unable to consent. An individual who engages in sexual activity when the individual knows, or should know, that the other person is physically or mentally incapacitated has violated this policy. Consent is required regardless of whether the initiator is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. It is not an excuse that the person initiating the sexual activity was intoxicated or incapacitated due to alcohol or other drugs and, therefore, did not realize the incapacity of the other.

Dating Violence. Dating violence refers to violent behavior (including, but not limited to, sexual or physical abuse or the threat of such abuse) that is committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim. This can include behavior such as coercion, isolation or other forms of emotional, verbal or economic abuse if it reflects a threat of sexual or physical abuse as described above.

Domestic Violence. Domestic violence refers to violent behavior (including, but not limited to, sexual or physical abuse or the threat of such abuse) between spouses, former spouses or intimate partners, cohabitating romantic partners or individuals who were formerly cohabitating romantic partners, individuals who share a child in common, individuals who are similarly situated to spouses and/or individuals who are protected from the other person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction in which the act of violence occurs.

Stalking is engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of others; or suffer substantial emotional distress. Stalking behavior may include but is not limited to repeated, intentional following, observing or lying in wait for another; or using “spyware” or other electronic means to gain impermissible access to a person’s private information; repeated, unwanted, intrusive, and frightening communications from the perpetrator by phone, mail, email, text, etc.; making direct or indirect threats to harm an individual or the individual’s relatives, friends, or pets; damaging or threatening to damage the property of the targeted individual. Stalking can be a form a sexual harassment when the person stalked is made to feel sexually uncomfortable or vulnerable as a result of the activity. Stalking can happen to a person of any gender, and may also include family members, friends, or co-workers.

Go to Haven landing page

Haven is a sexual violence resource center that provides confidential care, support, advocacy, and trauma-informed clinical services for survivors.