Sexual assault is any kind of unwanted sexual contact that takes place without a person’s consent or permission.
It can happen to people of all ages, gender identities, and sexual orientations. Some common forms of sexual assault include:
- Rape. Forced penetration of the vagina or anus with a body part (such as a penis or finger) or object. Attempted rape is also sexual assault.
- Unwanted oral sex. Oral sex is the stimulation of the genitals with a person’s mouth or tongue.
- Unwanted touching. Grabbing or fondling part of someone’s body without permission is sexual assault.
- Forced sexual acts. Force can be physical. But it can also be emotional or psychological. For example, a perpetrator might threaten violence to the victim or the victim’s family.
Consent is one of the most important components of sexual activity. The people involved must clearly, without a doubt, agree to the actions that will take place. If they do not agree, they might negotiate certain aspects of the encounter, but if they can’t resolve the issue, then the encounter should not take place.
Consent is necessary for every aspect of a sexual encounter. For example, if one partner does not wish to give or receive oral sex, then that activity should not occur. Consent is also essential for people who engage in sexual role playing.
As noted earlier, anyone can be sexually assaulted. Often, sexual assault victims know their perpetrator, who may be a relative, friend, acquaintance, date, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, roommate, or neighbor.
Sexual assault can have serious repercussions, both physical and psychological. Some victims become anxious and fearful. They might have trouble trusting others afterward. Others blame themselves for what happened. (Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault!) Self-esteem might be damaged. Many have nightmares about their experience.
If you or someone you care about has been sexually assaulted, know that help is available. You do not have to cope with the experience alone.
The idea of discussing sexual assault with others can sound awkward and scary, but it’s important to seek assistance as soon as you can. The following individuals and organizations can help:
- Your doctor
- Your local rape, sexual assault, or domestic violence crisis center
- A counselor or therapist
- A support group
- Your local police department
- An attorney
- Friends and family
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
“Preventing Sexual Violence”
(Page last reviewed: January 17, 2020)
International Society for Sexual Medicine
“How can I ensure that sexual role playing is safe and consensual?”
“What is sexual consent? How can I be sure it has been granted?”
“10 Questions About Sexual Assault You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask”
(January 22, 2015)
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
“Your 2019 Guide to Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month”
“What is sexual assault?”