What is sexual assault?

RHS Admin
Administration Specialist

Sexual assault and abuse is any type of sexual activity that you do not agree to, including:

Inappropriate touching Vaginal, anal, or oral penetration Sexual intercourse that you say no to Rape Attempted rape Child molestation

Sexual assault can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. Examples of this are voyeurism (when someone watches private sexual acts), exhibitionism (when someone exposes him/herself in public), incest (sexual contact between family members), and sexual harassment. It can happen in different situations: in the home by someone you know, on a date, or by a stranger in an isolated place.

Rape is a common form of sexual assault. It is committed in many situations—on a date, by a friend or an acquaintance, or when you think you are alone. Educate yourself on "date rape" drugs. They can be slipped into a drink when a victim is not looking. Never leave your drink unattended—no matter where you are. Attackers use date rape drugs to make a person unable to resist assault. These drugs can also cause memory loss so the victim doesn't know what happened.

Rape and sexual assault are never the victim's fault—no matter where or how it happens.

This answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

Dr. Bonnie Lynn Wright, PhD
Geriatrics Nursing Specialist

Sexual assault is being subjected to any kind of activity of a sexual nature that is unwanted or unwelcomed. You must let the other person(s) know that what they are doing or saying is unwelcomed and unwanted. This means scream, run away or fight back where there is a serious threat to your life or physical safety. On a smaller and more common scale, it is possible that cultural or family differences are the basis for the other person thinking they are doing the right thing at the right time when you do not. Also, what they are doing may be OK coming from someone else, not them. Either way, just speaking up can make a difference. The other person will understand what you are saying and stop. If they don't, walk away and get help if required. Most work places have policies established on how to handle persistent, offensive behavior of a sexual nature.

Sexual assault is any type of forced or coerced sexual contact or behavior that happens without consent. Consent is a clear "yes" to sexual activity. People know and understand what is going on and what they want to do, and they're sober.

It's okay for people to consent and change their mind, even after sexual activity has started.

Sexual assault can include:

  • Rape, which the U.S. Department of Justice defines as "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, without the consent of the victim." (Rape may be defined slightly differently in different communities. However, this is the legal definition that the federal government uses to collect information from local police about rape.)
  • Attempted rape
  • Any type of sexual contact with someone who can't consent, such as someone who is passed out, drunk, high or underage or has an intellectual disability
  • Incest, which is sexual contact between family members
  • Sexual contact with a child
  • Fondling or unwanted touching under or above clothing

Sexual assault can also be visual or verbal. It's anything where a person is forced to have unwanted sexual attention or contact. That could be:

  • Exhibitionism, where someone exposes himself in public
  • Sexual threats or harassment
  • Peeping, where someone watches private sexual acts without consent
  • Forcing someone to pose for pictures

This content originally appeared on

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.