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: An act in which a person sexually touches another person without that person's consent, or coerces or physically forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will.

Sexual Coercion: The use of pressure, manipulation, misuse of authority or status, or deception to gain sexual contact without a person’s 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: The act or crime of willfully and repeatedly following or harassing another person (can be in person, but also occur via telephone or social media) in circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to fear injury or death especially because of expressed or implied threats.

Relationship Violence: Repeated behaviors such as threats, verbal abuse, and physical abuse, involving adults who are in an intimate dating relationship.