Sexual Violence Definitions

Sexual Assault:

Sexual assault can be defined as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs by force or without consent of the recipient of the unwanted sexual activity. Falling under the definition of sexual assault is sexual activity such as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape. It includes sexual acts against people who are unable to consent either due to age or lack of capacity. Sexual Assault is more broadly defined as any sexual activity that is forced or coerced or unwanted.  Any unwanted sexual contact constitutes a sexual assault and is a violation of the University’s code of conduct and Massachusetts state law. 

Rape is a legal term that is defined in Massachusetts by three elements: penetration of any orifice by any object; force or threat of force; and against the will of the victim or without consent.  Consent is informed, freely and actively, given mutually understandable words or actions which indicate a willingness to participate in mutually agreed upon sexual activity.  Consent may never be given by minors (in Massachusetts, those not yet 16 years of age), mentally disabled persons, and those who are incapacitated as a result of alcohol or other drug consumption (voluntary or involuntary) or those who are unconscious, unaware or otherwise physically helpless.  Consent cannot be given in situations involving coercion, threats, intimidation, or physical force.

Rape and Sexual assault are crimes of violence and control, using sex acts as a weapon.  Rape and sexual assault are not sexually motivated acts; rather, they stem from aggression, rage, sexism, and the determination to exercise power over someone else. 

Sexual Coercion:

Sexual coercion lies on the continuum of sexual violence.  For many individuals, understanding what is meant by sexual coercion is difficult and confusing.  Sexual coercion involves the act of using psychological/emotional pressure, alcohol, drugs, or force to engage in sexual contact with a person against his or her will.  It often involves persistent attempts to have sexual contact after the other person has already refused (post refusal persistence).  Rather than through physical force, persuasion through psychological/emotional pressure is often the tactic of sexual coercion utilized by the person trying to make sexual contact with someone who is refusing that contact.  Sexual coercion by design of the person seeking the sexual contact is often subtle, but it is highly manipulative, cunning and often directed at possible vulnerabilities of the intended victim.  Many individuals erroneously interpret sexual coercion as “joking”, flirtation, or innocent behavior, but it is a type of sexual violence utilized to obtain sexual contact with a person who is not willing and does not give permission.


The state of Massachusetts defines consent as agreement to do something or to allow something to happen only after all the relevant facts are disclosed.

For consent to occur:

  • All partners must clearly communicate their willingness and permission.  Consent is not the absence of the word “no”.  Failure to resist sexual advances, silence, and/or prior relationship does not constitute consent.
  • All partners need to be fully conscious and aware of their actions.  A person is unable to give consent if they are asleep, drugged, intoxicated, unconscious, a minor, mentally impaired or incapacitated.  Signs that a person may be intoxicated, incapacitated or otherwise unable to give consent include but are not limited to:  slurred speech, loss of coordination, passing out for any period of time, vomiting, and a verbalized feeling of being nauseous. 
  • All partners must be equally free to act.  The decision to be sexually intimate must be made without coercion and all partners have a right to revoke their consent at any time during sexual activity by actively (verbally or non-verbally) communicating their desire to stop the activity.  A verbal “no” (no matter how indecisive) or resistance (no matter how passive) constitutes a lack of consent.

Dating Violence:

  • Violence committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim is dating violence. The existence of such a relationship shall be determined based on a consideration of the following factors:
  • the length of the relationship
  • the type of relationship
  • the frequency of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship


Stalking is a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.

Stalking can include:

  • Repeated, unwanted, intrusive, and frightening communications from the perpetrator by phone, mail, and/or email and/or other electronic means
  • Repeatedly leaving or sending victim unwanted items, presents, or flowers.
  • Following or lying in wait for the victim at places such as home, school, work, or recreation place.
  • Making direct or indirect threats to harm the victim, the victim's children, relatives, friends, or pets.
  • Damaging or threatening to damage the victim's property.
  • Harassing victim through the internet.
  • Posting information or spreading rumors about the victim on the internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth.
  • Obtaining personal information about the victim by accessing public records, using internet search services, hiring private investigators, going through the victim's garbage, following the victim, contacting victim's friends, family work, or neighbors, etc.

Domestic Violence:

We define domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.  Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.

  • Physical Abuse: Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, etc are types of physical abuse. This type of abuse also includes denying a partner medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use upon him or her.
  • Sexual Abuse: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is certainly not limited to, marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred, or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner.
  • Emotional Abuse: Undermining an individual's sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem is abusive. This may include, but is not limited to constant criticism, diminishing one's abilities, name-calling, or damaging one's relationship with his or her children.
  • Economic Abuse: Is defined as making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding one's access to money, or forbidding one's attendance at school or employment.
  • Psychological Abuse: Elements of psychological abuse include  - but are not limited to - causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner's family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work.
  • Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Domestic violence occurs in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships and can happen to intimate partners who are married, living together, or dating.

Domestic violence not only affects those who are abused, but also has a substantial effect on family members, friends, co-workers, other witnesses, and the community at large. Children, who grow up witnessing domestic violence, are among those seriously affected by this crime. Frequent exposure to violence in the home not only predisposes children to numerous social and physical problems, but also teaches them that violence is a normal way of life - therefore, increasing their risk of becoming society's next generation of victims and abusers.

The use of physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, stalking, or other forms of emotional, sexual, or economic abuse directed towards a partner in a dating relationship constitute relationship violence. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, or injure someone. Relationship violence can be a single act or a pattern of behavior in relationships. Relationships may be defined as short or long-term relationships (current or former) between persons intended to provide some emotional/romantic and/or physical intimacy. Examples may include the following:

  • Slapping
  • Pulling hair
  • Punching
  • Damaging one’s property
  • Driving recklessly to scare someone
  • Harassment directed toward a current or former partner
  • Threats of abuse such as threatening to hit, harm, or use a weapon on another (whether person being victimized or acquaintance, friend, or family member of the person being victimized), or other forms of verbal threats
  • Sabotaging contraception