Dean of Students

A Definition of Rape, Sexual Assault and Related Terms

Rape / Sexual Assault
Although the legal definition of rape varies from state to state, rape is generally defined as forced or nonconsensual sexual contact. 

Rape and/or sexual assault is forced, manipulated, or coerced sexual contact by a stranger, friend or acquaintance.  It is an act of aggression and power combined with some form of sex.  A person is forced into sexual contact through verbal coercion, threats, physical restraint, and/or physical violence.  Consent is not given.

Rape is also a legal term that is defined in Massachusetts by three elements:

  • Penetration of ANY orifice by ANY object,
  • Force or threat of force, or
  • Sexual contact against the will of the victim.

Consent cannot be given (legally) if a person is impaired, intoxicated, drugged, underage, mentally challenged, unconscious, or asleep.

Rape and sexual assault are about power and dominance; they are not about sex and certainly not about feelings of love and/or affection.  Rape is a hate crime based on gender, power and control.

Stranger Rape
When a person is raped by an unknown attacker it is considered a “stranger rape”.  Stranger rapes, contrary to media coverage, are rare and account for only 25% of all reported sexual assaults.  Most victims know their attackers.

Acquaintance Rape / Date Rape
When a person knows his/her attacker (partner, family member, doctor, neighbor, co-worker, etc.) it is considered an “acquaintance rape”.  Because of the personal connection to the perpetrator, the survivor may not classify what has happened as rape.  Acquaintance rapes account for more than 75% of all reported rapes.

Sexism is the system of attitudes, assumptions, actions and institutions that treat women as inferior and make women vulnerable to violence, disrespect and discrimination.  Sexism is intensified and compounded by other systematic imbalances of power because of class, race, age, sexual orientation and physical/mental ability.  In a sexist world, men have more political, economic and social power than women.

Coercion is the use of emotional manipulation to persuade someone to something they may not want to do – like being sexual or performing certain sexual acts.  Examples of some coercive statements include: “If you love me you would have sex with me .”, “If you don't have sex with me I will find someone who will.”, and “I'm not sure I can be with someone who doesn't want to have sex with me.”  Coercive statements are often part of many campus acquaintance rapes.  Being coerced into having sex or performing sexual acts is not consenting to having sex and is considered rape/sexual assault.

Consent is clear permission between intimate partners that what they are doing is okay and safe.  To consent to something – like being sexual – means you confidently agree to do it based on your own free will without any influence or pressure. 

Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is a term generally used to refer to inappropriate sexual conduct on a child.

Sexual Harassment
Different from sexual assault, sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual advance, comment, attention, gesture or behavior.  Sexual harassment can be verbal, non-verbal or physical.  Often, sexual harassment includes pressure by supervisors on his/her employees to reciprocate sexual advances in order to protect or advance in a job.

This term – used throughout this document – is used in place of “victim” to describe someone who has survived sexual abuse or assault.  The term “survivor” honors and empowers the strength of an individual to heal.

Battering is a series of verbal, physical or psychological tactics that one person uses to gain control over another person, often a partner or ex-partner.  Battering can occur in intimate relationships (partner violence) and within a family (domestic violence).

Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is verbal, physical, psychological or sexual violence within the fluid concept of “family”.  Such violence can occur between domestic partners, parents and children, siblings, or extended family members. 

Heterosexism is the systematic, day-to-day, institutional mistreatment of gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual people by a heterosexually dominated culture.  At its core, heterosexism assumes that heterosexual relationships represent the norm and are, therefore, implicitly superior to gay, lesbian, transsexual or bisexual relationships.  Out of heterosexism stems homophobia which is the fear and/or hatred of gays, lesbians, transsexuals and bisexuals because of their sexual orientations. 

According to Massachusetts General Law, stalking occurs when someone “willfully and repeatedly follows and harasses another person and who makes a threat with the intent to place a person in fear” for their personal wellbeing.  A person can stalk someone by following, calling, instant messaging, writing, emailing another person.