Sexual Violence Definitions


Sexual violence is a broad category of actions in which a person exerts their power and control over another person through unwanted or harmful sexual actions. The information below provides definitions to describe different forms of sexual violence. We recognize that not everyone may identify with these terms or define their own experiences in these ways. We also recognize that the terms below may not describe all forms of sexual violence and sexual violence is not limited to the actions described below. We choose to share these definitions for individuals who are looking for language to help them understand what happened to them. 

The sexual violence umbrella portrays the spectrum of actions that constitute sexual violence and highlights some key terms and definitions of actions that fall within that continuum.

Sexual Assault: Any unwanted sexual contact or behavior that takes place without explicit
consent or with force or coercion. Includes many behaviors including rape
(which often refers to non-consensual sexual penetration).

Sexual CoercionThe use of pressure, manipulation, threats, deception, or the misuse of
authority, status, power or trust, to gain sexual contact without consent.

Rape: Rape is a form of sexual violence. The term rape is often used as a legal definition to specifically include sexual penetration without consent.

Sexual Exploitation: Actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual Harassment may involve unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, other verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature; sexual innuendo; offensive jokes; and repeated unwanted invitations.

Stalking: Two or more unwanted actions towards another person intended to control,
threaten, harass, or frighten them.

Relationship Violence: When one person in a past or current intimate partner relationship uses a
variety of abuse tactics to exert power and control over the other person (also
referred to as domestic, dating, or intimate partner violence or abuse).