What is Abuse?

Sexual abuse or assault is any type of sexual activity or contact, including rape, that happens without your consent. Sexual assault can include non-contact activities, such as someone “flashing” you (exposing themselves to you) or forcing you to look at sexual images.

Sexual assault is also called sexual violence or abuse. Legal definitions of sexual assault and other crimes of sexual violence can vary slightly from state to state. If you’ve been assaulted, it is never your fault.

Sexual assault can include:

  • Any type of sexual contact with someone who cannot consent, such as someone who is underage (as defined by state laws), has an intellectual disability, or is passed out (such as from drugs or alcohol) or unable to respond (such as from sleeping)
  • Any type of sexual contact with someone who does not consent
  • Rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Sexual coercion
  • Sexual contact with a child
  • Fondling or unwanted touching above or under clothes

Sexual assault can also be verbal, visual, or non-contact. It is anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual activities or attention. Other examples can include:

  • Voyeurism, or peeping (when someone watches private sexual acts without consent)
  • Exhibitionism (when someone exposes himself or herself in public)
  • Sexual harassment or threats
  • Forcing someone to pose for sexual pictures
  • Sending someone unwanted texts or “sexts” (texting sexual photos or messages)


What is Sexual Consent?

Consent is a clear “yes” to sexual activity. Not saying “no” does not mean you have given consent. Sexual contact without consent is sexual assault or rape.

Your consent means:

  • You know and understand what is going on (you are not unconscious, blacked out, asleep, underage, or have an intellectual disability).
  • You know what you want to do.
  • You are able to say what you want to do or don’t want to do.
  • You are aware that you are giving consent (and are not impaired by alcohol or drugs).

Sometimes you cannot give legal consent to sexual activity or contact — for example, if you are:

  • Threatened, forced, coerced, or manipulated into agreeing
  • Not physically able to (you are drunk, high, drugged, passed out, or asleep)
  • Not mentally able to (due to illness or disability)
  • Under the age of legal consent, which varies by state(link is external)


  • Consent is an ongoing process, not a one-time question. If you consent to sexual activity, you can change your mind and choose to stop at any time, even after sexual activity has started.
  • Past consent does not mean future consent. Giving consent in the past to sexual activity does not mean your past consent applies now or in the future.
  • Saying “yes” to a sexual activity is not consent for all types of sexual activity. If you consent to sexual activity, it is only for types of sexual activities that you are comfortable with at that time with that partner. For example, giving consent for kissing does not mean you are giving consent for someone to remove your clothes.


What is NOT Considered Consent?

  • Silence. Just because someone does not say “no” doesn’t mean she is saying “yes.”
  • Having consented before. Just because someone said “yes” in the past does not mean she is saying “yes” now. Consent must be part of every sexual activity, every time.
  • Being in a relationship. Being married, dating, or having sexual contact with someone before does not mean that there is consent now.
  • Being drunk or high. Read more about alcohol, drugs, and sexual assault.
  • Not fighting back. Not putting up a physical fight does not mean that there is consent.
  • Sexy clothing, dancing, or flirting. What a woman or girl wears or how she behaves does not show consent for sexual activity. Only a verbal “yes” means “yes” to sexual activity.

What Do I Do If I Have Been Sexually Assaulted?

If you are in danger or need medical care, call 911. If you can, get away from the person who assaulted you and get to a safe place as fast as you can. Reach out to any of our campus or off campus resources for support. 

If you have been raped, 

  • Get to a safe place. Call 911 if you can. The most important thing after a rape is your safety.
  • Don’t wash or clean your body. If you shower, bathe, or wash after an assault, you might wash away important evidence. Don’t brush, comb, or clean any part of your body, including your teeth. Don’t change clothes, if possible. Don’t touch or change anything at the scene of the assault. That way, the local police will have physical evidence from the person who assaulted you.
  • Get medical care. Call 911 or go to your nearest hospital emergency room. You need to be examined and treated for injuries. The doctor or nurse may give you medicine to prevent HIV and some other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy.
    The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) can help you find a hospital with staff members who are trained to collect evidence of sexual assault. Ask for a sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) or a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE). A doctor or nurse will use a rape kit to collect evidence. This might be fibers, hairs, saliva, semen, or clothing left behind by the attacker. You do not have to decide whether to press charges while at the hospital. You do not need to press charges in order to have evidence collected with a rape kit.
  • If you think you were drugged, talk to the hospital staff about testing for date rape drugs, such as Rohypnol and GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid). Date rape drugs pass through the body quickly and may not be detectable by the time you get tested.
  • Reach out for help. The hospital staff can connect you with the local rape crisis center. Staff there can help you make choices about reporting the sexual assault and getting help through counseling and support groups. You can also call a friend or family member you trust to call a crisis center or hotline for you. Crisis centers and hotlines have trained volunteers and other professionals (such as mental health professionals) who can help you find support and resources near you. One hotline is the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in the military, you may also call the Department of Defense Safe Helpline at 877-995-5247.
  • Report the sexual assault to the police. If you want to report the assault to the police, hospital workers can help you contact the local police. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. If you want to report sexual assault that happened in the past, call your local police non-emergency number or make a report in person at the police station.
  • Talk to someone about reporting the assault to the police. If you want to talk to someone first about reporting the assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). An advocate or counselor can help you understand how to report the crime. Even though these calls are free, they may appear on your phone bill. If you think that the person who sexually assaulted you may check your phone bill, try to call from a friend’s phone or a public phone.
  • If the person who assaulted you was a stranger, write down as many details as you can remember about the person and what happened. This will help you make a clear statement to police and medical providers about the sexual assault. With good information, they will be better able to help you and find the person who assaulted you.

Common Reactions to Assault

Sexual assault can have long-term health effects. People who have experienced sexual violence or stalking by any person or physical violence by an intimate partner are more likely to report:

  • Headaches
  • Long-term pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Poor physical and mental health
  • Asthma
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Other health effects can include:

  • Severe anxiety, stress, or fear
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Sexually transmitted infections 
  • Pregnancy
  • Self-injury or suicide

Getting support after a sexual assault can help. You are not alone. Reach out to friends or family, talk to a counselor or advocate, or join a support group in person or online.