On this page, you will find general information about sexual assault. You can also learn more by visiting the Yale Sexual Misconduct Response & Prevention site, where you can read Yale’s definition of sexual assault, or by downloading SHARE’s brochure on the topic here.
General Information About Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is a broad category, denoting any kind of nonconsensual sexual act: touching and kissing can be forms of sexual assault, for example, as well as some forms of oral sex. The legal definition of sexual assault varies from state to state, but indicates some form of nonconsensual penetration.
The key element of an assault is the lack of sexual consent. In Yale’s policies, consent does not have to be verbal, but it does have to be clear, unambiguous, and voluntary. Consent must be ongoing and can be revoked at any time. It must also be given by someone who is capable of doing so, who is not “incapacitated” by sleep, unconsciousness, or intoxication. A consensual encounter is marked by mutual willingness; partners are respectful of each other’s boundaries, carefully looking for active signals to ensure that sexual activity is wanted at every stage. In a sexual assault, there is no such respect or care. Instead, there is disregard, intimidation, and sometimes physical force.
Sexual assault and rape can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity or socioeconomic status. These acts can be perpetrated by a romantic partner, a friend, a fellow student, a family member, someone in authority, or a stranger. Our cultural stereotype of rape is a random attack by a stranger, but that is actually quite rare. Non-stranger assault is the norm. In 80-85% of the cases, assaults occur between people who know each other.
Sexual assault is sometimes accomplished by physical force, but most often this is not the case, especially between people who know each other. In those cases, physical violence is often unnecessary; coercion, intimidation, and threats are forceful enough. Active disregard is surprisingly powerful—victims are often stunned to find their refusals and hesitations ignored, finding it difficult that someone they trusted would so easily disregard their unwillingness. Some assaults are carried out on victims who are incapacitated, asleep, or even unconscious.
Have you or someone you know experienced a recent sexual assault? View our Post-Assault Care page.