What is sexual assault?

The United States Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”


Sexual assault occurs when someone takes advantage of a person and situation by acting without that person’s consent. Remember, consent is:

  • Clear
  • Freely given (which also means you are free to say no!)
  • Informed
  • Changeable
  • Enthusiastic!

Perpetrators often manipulate the victim into unwanted sexual activity, and do not gain that person’s active consent. Manipulation can include emotional or psychological coercion; force is not always physical pressure. 

Reasons someone might not consent include age, illness, fear, disability, influence of alcohol or other drugs, or simply because the individual is not in the mood or not sexually and/or romantically interested in the other person. While there are many reasons someone might not consent to an unwanted sexual act, there are zero reasons why someone should violate another human being’s body. Zero.


It is important to note that sexual violence affects people of all genders, races, incomes, religions, ethnicities, abilities, professions, and sexual orientations, but tends to affect minority and marginalized groups at higher rates. Forms of sexual assault include:

  • Rape or attempted rape
  • Child sexual assault and incest
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Sexual harassment
  • Intimate partner sexual assault
  • Masturbating in public
  • Showing one’s genitals or naked body to others without consent
  • Unwanted sexual contact/touching (groping/fondling)
  • Watching someone in a private act without their permission
  • Forcing someone to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetration

What is rape?

The term rape is a legal definition that refers to acts of sexual penetration without consent. To learn your state’s legal definition of rape, check out RAINN’s State Law Database.

I think I have been sexually violated. What do I do now?

Sexual assault is never your fault. Ever. After your assault, you may experience shock, confusion, denial fear, apathy, anger, calm, and/or withdrawal. You may lose your appetite, ability to sleep, and/or feel detached from your body at times. All of these feelings are completely normal, and there is no one correct response. Sexual assault is a trauma, and it takes time to process your experience and heal. This time period varies for each individual. Acknowledge your feelings and experience as real and legitimate. 
You may wonder why this happened to you, but rest assured, sexual assault is never the consequence of your actions or behaviors. The sole responsibility lies on the perpetrator. Currently, 68% of sexual assaults go unreported, and 3 out of 4 sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. Do not let this discourage you; rather, know that you are not alone, and there are resources for you to get help. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can speak with a counselor at the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE).

To learn more about safety, prevention, and life after sexual assault, please visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) website. For more resources on consent, check out the lemonaid blog.

tabú tip:

If you have been sexually assaulted, please know that you are not alone, and you are 100% not to blame. We mean it. Seek the support you need, whether it is from friends, family, other survivors, online communities, or a counselor/ therapist. Coping with sexual assault isn’t easy, but by giving yourself time, and asking for what you need, things will eventually get better. 

Related Articles