Sexual Assault

In partnership with The Equality Institute

What is Sexual Assault?

So what exactly is sexual assault? According to the Department of Justice sexual assault is defined as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Sexual assault can include a wide range of acts including:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Unwanted touching
  • Coerced or forced sexual activities
  • Flashing
  • Stalking
  • Posting sexual images online without consent
  • Being forced or coerced to watch pornography

The most important factor is that sexual assault happens when consent is not present. Consent is an agreement between people to engage in sexual activity. Consent is not implied, not coerced, and not set in stone. Consent is voluntary, specific, informed, enthusiastic, positive and reversible (i.e. you can change your mind at any time). It is all about open, ongoing communication.

Lack of consent can happen in a lot of ways, including ‘forced sex’ and ‘coerced sex.’ Sometimes people could be verbally or physically forced into sexual activity against their will. People could also be coerced or convinced into sexual activity that they don’t want to do. Force and coercion can happen in a variety of ways. For instance, being forced to watch pornography is another form of sexual assault where consent isn’t given. There are many different forms of sexual assault, and it may not always feel obvious or comfortable to label something ‘assault.’ Pressure and guilt often play a major role in sexual assault; the bottom line is, if an experience was non-consensual, it was not okay. If you’re not sure about something, check out the resource list toward the end.

Sexual assault is one of the many forms of sexual violence, which is an umbrella term meaning any sexual act that is perpetrated against someone’s will. Sexual violence is a form of power-based violence and includes a range of crimes such as sexual assault, rape and sexual abuse. Here are some helpful terms related to sexual violence and assault:

Rape: often used as a legal definition to specifically include sexual penetration without consent.

Intimate partner violence: behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm.

Sexual harassment: an unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favors or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.

Stalking: a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.

Stealthing: the act of removing a condom during sex without consent of the partner.

Revenge porn: often nude or sexual photography or video that is distributed without a person’s consent via any medium.

Many of these terms are defined specifically according to state. To find out your state’s definitions, visit RAINN’s State Law Database.

Rape Culture

Rape culture is a term, coined by feminists in the 1970s, to refer to the normalization or trivialization of sexual violence against women in society. Rape culture manifests in many different ways. It is victim blaming, slut shaming and sexual objectification. It is how the threat of sexual violence affects women’s daily movements. It’s the fact that survivors of rape are often asked, “What were you wearing? What did you say? How much did you drink?” It encourages male sexual aggression and condones physical and emotional violence against women as the norm. Rape culture is when people make jokes about sexual violence that validate the actions of perpetrators. Or when perpetrators of sexual violence are defended because they are athletes, actors or musicians. It is a culture that exists across the world and condones sexual assault.

College Campuses

Recently, the media has turned its attention to college and university campuses as the sites of widespread rape culture and sexual assault. While college can be an overwhelmingly positive and eye-opening experience, it is important to understand that it is also a setting for risk. A 2016 Bureau of Justice Statistics funded study of 9 U.S. colleges and universities found that over a quarter of senior females (25.1%) reported experiencing an unwanted/nonconsensual sexual encounter since entering college. Students who experience sexual assault tend to face subsequent trouble with schoolwork, relationships, and thoughts of transferring or dropping out of school. Being educated and knowledgeable about sexual health, consent, your rights and resources can go a long way in making the college experience all the more amazing.

Title IX

Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes sexual harassment, rape, and sexual assault. Any college or university that receives federal funding (most of them) can be held legally responsible if they ignore sexual harassment or assault. Under Title IX, students can take actions against their assailants through their college and hold them responsible for their actions. Get to know Title IX, and your rights under it as a college student.

But I’ve heard…(myth busting):

Myth #1: If they’re drunk or wearing provocative clothing, they’re partly responsible.

Fact #1: Sexual assault survivors are never, under any circumstances, responsible for somebody assaulting them. Neither behavior nor dress is an invitation for non-consensual sexual activity.

Myth #2: Sexual assault is perpetrated mostly by strangers.

Fact #2: Most sexual assaults and rapes are committed by someone the survivor knows – this may be a friend, a relative, a person in a position of authority, or a partner. The most common form of violence against women across the world is violence that occurs in an intimate relationship.

Myth #3: Sexual assault can be avoided if people avoid “dangerous” places where strangers might be lurking.

Fact #3: Sexual assault can happen in many places at many times of the day. According to FBI data, nearly 70% of reported sexual assaults happened in the residence of the survivor, the perpetrator or another person.

Myth #4: He’s a man – men can’t be sexually assaulted.

Fact # 4: People of any gender can be sexually assaulted, including men. Sometimes, men and boys who have been sexually assaulted face different challenges because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity.

Myth #5: Victims often lie about being sexually assaulted to get attention.

Fact #5: In America, estimates of false reporting for sexual assault fall between 2% and 7% (which is about the same for other crimes, eg. Grand Theft Auto). This means that most sexual assault reports are genuine. Many survivors don’t report their experiences for fear of not being believed.

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 a range of emotions, from shock and confusion to sadness and anger. You may lose your appetite, have trouble sleeping, and/or feel detached from your body at times. You may feel shame, blame yourself, or question your recollection of the experience. All of these responses are completely normal, and there is no single correct or ‘normal’ response. Sexual assault is a type of trauma, and it takes time to for your mind and body to process your experience and heal. This time period varies for each individual. Acknowledge your experience and feelings 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. Know that you are not alone, and that there are resources available to help you cope.

If you are in immediate danger or seriously injured, call 911. Your safety is important. Are you in a safe place? If you’re not feeling safe, consider reaching out to someone you trust for support. You don’t have to go through this alone.


It isn’t always easy for survivors to speak up or report sexual assault. Reasons for this include:

  • They may not want anyone to know.
  • They may believe that it is a personal matter.
  • They may believe that it was not important enough to report or they weren’t sure if what they experienced was sexual assault or rape.
  • They may believe that the police would not believe them or do anything.
  • They may fear retaliation from the perpetrator.
  • They may not want to get the perpetrator in trouble (especially if the perpetrator is someone they know or are in a relationship with).

You have complete control over your decision to report. If you choose to do so, learn your state laws, and familiarize yourself with the process.

How to Support a Friend or Relative

It can be difficult to accept that a loved one has been sexually assaulted or abused. Their choice to confide in you represents a level of trust you should feel proud of, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy conversation or journey through coping. Here are a few steps you can take to be supportive.

  1. Listen to and validate their experience. Recognize their experience and feelings as valid. Listen more than you speak. Let them open up to you in a way that is natural for them; do not push the conversation or their comfort zone. Thank them for opening up to you, and emphasize that you can be trusted, and you respect their privacy (and mean it!). Don’t ask for details, and never ever victim-blame. Sexual violence is never the fault of the survivor. Do not label their experience for them. Allow them to come to terms with their experience in their own way.
  2. Don’t tell them what to do. You may have opinions about what your friend should do next (go to the hospital, report to the police, tell a parent, etc.), but what matters most is how they want to handle the situation. Their choices are entirely up to them. You can point your friend to available resources, and encourage them to confide in a mental health professional, but never pressure them. Respect their privacy, and right to make their own decisions.
  3. Take care of your own mental health. Learning about someone’s sexual assault can be painful, as you care about that individual and may feel sad or angry they have been hurt. It can also be triggering if you have had your own experience(s) with sexual trauma. However, remember that you are not a therapist or licensed professional equipped to counsel your friend/relative. Establish necessary boundaries for yourself, and be realistic about what you can, and cannot handle.

Overall, be sensitive and patient, but continue to be yourself. Sexual violence is a traumatic experience, and everyone handles it differently. At the end of the day, survivors want to feel validated, respected, and normal. Treat them as such.

How, or should I step in if I see something sketchy taking place?

A bystander is a person who is present when an event takes place but isn’t directly involved. They may be present when sexual assault occurs, or may witness the circumstances that lead up to the crime. Being an active bystander means that by stepping in, you could change a potentially dangerous outcome. Whether you’re taking home a friend who has had too much to drink or explaining that a rape joke isn’t funny, choosing to step in can affect the way those around you think about and respond to sexual violence.

Support and Resources:

National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE): 

When you call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, a staff member will walk you through the process of getting help at your own pace. You’ll be connected to a trained staff member from a local sexual assault service provider in your area. They will direct you to the appropriate local health facility that can care for survivors of sexual assault. Some service providers may be able to send a trained advocate to accompany you. The hotline is free, confidential and available 24/7.


RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. It provides a wealth of information and resources on a huge variety of topics such as safety, receiving medical attention, recovery, reporting options, the criminal justice system and many more. You can also chat online at RAINN anonymously and confidentially.

End Rape on Campus: 

You can also contact End Rape on Campus. As stated on their website, the violence prevention advocacy and awareness organization provides free, direct assistance to all survivors of gender-based and sexual violence, including, but not limited to, in the following ways:

  • connecting survivors, parents and friends with support networks
  • filing federal complaints
  • mentoring student activists
  • connecting survivors with mental health professionals
  • connecting survivors with legal counsel

Local Services:

There are many services available to people who have experienced sexual assault such as the 24-hour crisis line, follow-up services, legal services, medical and mental health services, support and peer groups. Survivors and loved ones can also find support in their communities by reaching out to a local sexual assault service provider.

Other resources include:

Victim Rights Law Center

Know Your IX

Culture of Respect


tabú tip:

Educate and empower yourself! Having knowledge and information about sexual assault goes a long way in protecting yourself and those around you. Sexual assault doesn’t look like one thing, nor does recovery. Know your rights and the resources available, and be an active part in reducing sexual assault by being informed and supporting others!

Relationship Health

In partnership with The One Love Foundation

If your idea of #RelationshipGoals is based on 50 Shades of Grey, you’re not alone. TBH most people assume that the relationships we see in movies, on TV shows, or on social media are the ideal, but that’s most likely not the case. With pop culture romanticizing unhealthy, possessive behavior, it can be hard to tell the difference between a relationship that’s toxic and one that’s good for you.

The One Love Foundation works to educate young people about these differences so that anyone in a bad relationship can recognize the warning signs and get help before things escalate to abuse. When it comes to relationships there are a few key differences that distinguish the good from the bad, and we’re here to tell you about them!

5 key differences between healthy + unhealthy relationships:

1. In a healthy relationship, both partners set the pace of the relationship together. In an unhealthy relationship, one partner will move more quickly than the other is comfortable with and the relationship will feel very intense.

In a healthy relationship, both people set the pace together and feel equally satisfied with how quickly the relationship is progressing. You feel like you and your partner are on the same page about things and you don’t feel like you’re rushing into something serious or moving too quickly. The relationship feels mutually passionate, respectful, and uplifting. That’s because healthy passionate people balance their strong emotions with strong respect for what the other person is feeling, too.

Unhealthy passion in a relationship, or intensity, feels chaotic and overwhelming. If a relationship starts out really strong or feels like too much too soon, that’s a warning sign of an unhealthy relationship. Your partner should be respectful and thoughtful about how you feel and should never pressure you to do anything you’re not comfortable with. Requests for exclusivity early on, lavish gifts or extravagant displays of affection could also be warning signs. Basically, if they’re going from zero to 100 real quick – it might be time to reconsider.

2. In a healthy relationship, you and your partner will trust one another completely. In an unhealthy relationship, your partner might do certain things like demand to know where you are or get upset with you for texting other people.  

Trusting your partner means knowing that they are reliable, having confidence in their loyalty, and feeling safe with them physically and emotionally. All healthy relationships require mutual and unguarded trust between partners.

A partner who is easily jealous or possessive of you is not acting that way because they care – it is because they are trying to control you. Your partner should never try to control you or limit your freedom, like telling you not to hang out with certain people or requiring you to share passwords. If your partner is controlling or possessive of you, it’s time to rethink that relationship!

Also, if your partner is using their lack of trust or past experiences as an excuse to control you, question you or otherwise make you feel as though you need to go out of your way earn their trust, that is not a good relationship. Regardless of what either partner has experienced in the past, like a cheating ex or divorced parents, in a healthy relationship your partner will trust you completely and vice versa.

3. Healthy relationships allow for open, honest communication between partners. If you feel like you can’t talk to your partner about how you’re feeling or something that is bothering you, that’s a big red flag that your relationship may be unhealthy.

You’ve definitely heard the very cliché “communication is key.” But here’s the thing – it’s a cliché for a reason. Good communication is one of the most important aspects to having a healthy relationship. It’s important to be able to talk about what you both want and expect. Sometimes this means being honest and having uncomfortable conversations, but if you’re in a healthy relationship your partner will be receptive and listen (and you should do the same). Being on the same page as your partner goes a long way and opening-up to your partner about what’s bothering you, compromising over your disagreements and providing positive feedback are all just as important.

While communication is important, you and your partner should both be comfortable with how often you talk to one another. If your partner demands that you always answer right away and text them all day long, that’s a warning sign of relationship abuse. No one can make demands about how quickly you respond or require you to always be accessible (unless they’re your parents). On the flip side, if your partner is always ignoring your texts and it doesn’t make you feel good, that’s not healthy either. Finding a communication balance that you’re both comfortable with is super important. Also, if you’re worried that your partner will overreact or retaliate if you try to talk to them about something, that’s another sign that your relationship is not healthy.

4. In a healthy relationship, your partner will respect personal boundaries. If your partner is pressuring you to hang out with them over other people and activities, that’s a big red flag.

It’s important to find a balance between spending time with your partner and spending time with other people. In healthy relationships, your partner will try to get to know the important people in your life like friends and family. They’ll be supportive of your hobbies and interests and encourage you to have a life outside of your relationship. Supportive partners will always want what’s best for you and they won’t hold you back from achieving your dreams or pursuing your goals. In a healthy relationship, you’ll feel like yourself and not like you should change things about yourself or make huge sacrifices so that the relationship can thrive. Also, in a healthy relationship, you should feel 100% comfortable setting personal boundaries with your partner and know that they will be respected (and vice versa for your partner).

In an unhealthy relationship, one partner pressures another to cut ties with friends, family and other people. It crosses the line from “we’re excited to spend time together” to “I need you to spend all of your time with me.” An abusive partner will often use isolation as a tactic to separate a person from support networks like friends and family to gain power over that person. If you feel like your partner is making excuses to separate you from your friends and family, like saying that they don’t get along with certain people or that your relationship should be the priority, that’s a big red flag of relationship abuse!

5. Healthy relationships are built on respect. If your partner is violating that and criticizing you or making you feel not-so-great, that’s a sign of an abusive relationship!

Has anyone ever told you, “No one will ever love you more than I do.” Or maybe you’ve heard, “That food will make you fat.” Criticism is a major sign of an unhealthy relationship. Insulting your partner is never okay, not even during arguments or while under the influence. Making degrading remarks or sarcastic jokes at your expense can really affect a person’s self-esteem. This type of behavior is known as emotional abuse and it has serious consequences – not only because it breaks down a person’s confidence, but also because some people start to believe that the things being said about them are actually true.

In a healthy relationship, both partners will have respect for one another. Your partner won’t say things that make you feel bad about yourself or make you feel guilty. Also, just because you don’t always see eye to eye, it doesn’t mean that one person needs to change their mind for your relationship to work. A key way to establish respect in a relationship is to be considerate of your partner’s privacy and boundaries. Being respectful also means being mindful of your partner’s feelings and not doing things that might really hurt them, like keeping things that are supposed to be private just between you two.

Ultimately, an unhealthy relationship is based on power and control and a healthy one is based on love and respect. If you are experiencing any of these unhealthy behaviors in your relationship, or if you feel like your partner is using tactics to control you, that is a big red flag and you should talk to someone that can help. Your partner doesn’t have to physically harm you for your relationship to be abusive. If your relationship is great most of the time, but unhealthy sometimes, that’s not good enough. Everyone deserves to be in a healthy relationship and there is never an excuse for abuse. Even if there is a history of mental illness, cheating or other hardships either in or outside of your current relationship, those are not excuses for abusive behavior. It’s important to know that you can’t change your partner. If you are in an abusive relationship, you should seek help immediately — don’t wait for your partner to change!

For more examples of healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors, check out One Love’s #ThatsNotLove campaign or visit their website.

tabú tip:

Communicate with your partner, and speak up if something doesn’t feel right. If you end up having to walk away, trust us, you’re better off single (and eventually with someone new) than you are with someone who doesn’t treat you with the love and respect you deserve!