Sexual assault is any form of unwanted sexual contact obtained without consent and/or obtained through the use of force, threat of force, intimidation, or coercion. It is a criminal act that can be prosecuted under Minnesota state law, as well as under the college’s policies.
Sexual assault is defined as both non-consensual sexual intercourse or any non-consensual sexual contact:
- Whether anal, oral, vaginal, above or below clothing
- However slight
- With any object
- By any person, regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression, or identity, upon any other person, regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression or identity
- Without consent
By this definition, sexual assault takes many forms, some of which do not involve penetration. A sexual assault can range from unwanted sexual contact over the clothes, like touching someone’s buttock or fondling their breasts, to rape. Minnesota law has identified five different levels of unwanted sexual contact and penetration. The degree of a sexual assault incident depends on the severity of the assault. As danger to the victim increases, so do the corresponding penalties for the perpetrator. Legally, an assault is considered more dangerous when weapons, force, considerable bodily harm, multiple assailants, and/or pregnancy are results of the sexual assault.
In terms of the law, a majority of states have adopted consent-based definitions of sexual assault. Where previously sex against one’s will constituted rape, now, more specifically, rape is sexual intercourse without one’s consent.
The person initiating the sexual contact must gain consent from the other person involved in the sexual act before any sexual activity takes place. Consent is clear, unambiguous, affirmative, and mutually understood permission and agreement for each level of increased intimacy from holding hands to intercourse.
- Minnesota law clearly states that consent does not mean the existence of a prior or current social relationship between the perpetrator and the complainant or that the complainant failed to resist a particular sexual act.
- Silence does not mean permission.
- If the victim/survivor is mentally or physically incapacitated or impaired so that they cannot understand the sexual situation, there is no consent. This includes impairment due to alcohol or drug consumption and being asleep or unconscious.
- If one person is impaired because of drug or alcohol, consent is not possible.
- If physical force, coercion, intimidation, and/or threats are used, there is no consent.
- In order to give consent one must be of legal age.
“Coercion” means the use by the actor of words or circumstances that cause the complainant reasonably to fear that the actor will inflict bodily harm upon the complainant or another, or the use by the actor of confinement, or superior size or strength, against the complainant that causes the complainant to submit to sexual penetration or contact against the complainant’s will. Proof of coercion does not require proof of a specific act or threat.
What this definition states is that if the word “no” was not spoken and sexual contact takes place, it could be a sexual assault if one person believed that not going along with the act would result in bodily harm.
Examples of coercive statements:
- “If you really loved me, you’d have sex with me.”
- “I didn’t think you were such a prude.”
- “But we’ve had sex before.”
- “If you don’t have sex with me, I’ll find someone who will.”
- “I’ll tell everyone that you’re gay if you don’t have sex with me.”
- “I’ll spread rumors about you if you don’t have sex with me.”
Same-sex sexual assault
Same-sex sexual assault is when a sexual assault occurs and the victim and the perpetrator are the same sex. This does not necessarily mean that the victim or the perpetrator necessarily identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
Same-sex sexual assault involves any type of unwanted sexual contact obtained without consent and/or obtained through the use of force, threat of force, intimidation, or coercion. Same-sex sexual assault can happen on a date, or between friends, acquaintances, partners, or strangers.
Who can be assaulted?
Sexual assault can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, gender, class status, sexual orientation, ability, religion, or physical appearance. There is no particular time of day or place where sexual assault does not occur. There are things that we can do to reduce our risks of experiencing sexual assault, but the only person who can stop rape completely is the person committing the sexual assault. Rape is never the survivor’s fault. It is often easier to blame ourselves for our experiences of violence than it is to believe that we live in a world where someone would choose to harm us.
How often does sexual assault occur?
Here are some statistics that indicate the prevalence of rape and sexual assault on college campuses:
- Over a five-year stay, a college woman’s risk of experiencing a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault is between one in five and one in four (Department of Justice, 2000).
- In a one-year time period, three percent of college women are victims of completed or attempted rape.
- One out of 10 college women have been raped in their lifetime.
- For women who have been raped in college, nine out of 10 offenders were known to the victim.
- Almost 60 percent of the completed on-campus rapes took place in the victim’s living quarters (Department of Justice, 1997).
- 90 percent of campus rapes involve alcohol use by the assailant or the victim.
- One in three women and one in six men will experience some form of sexual assault before reaching the age of 18.
- Women with disabilities are twice as likely to experience a sexual assault than are able-bodied women.
- Women of color experience a higher rate of sexual assault than white women.
- Regardless of the race/ethnicity of the survivor, the perpetrator is most likely to be from the survivor’s race/ethnic group.
- Three out of four rape/sexual assault vicitmizations involved offenders with whom the victim had a prior relationship (Department of Justice, 1997).
- One out of six college women have been raped or have been the victim of an attempted rape during the past year. (Weitzman, E., DeJong, W. and Finn, P. Alcohol and Acquaintance Rape: Strategies to Protect Yourself and Each Other. The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention. U.S. Department of Education, 1999).
- One out of 15 male students raped or attempted to rape a woman during the past year. (Weitzman, E., DeJong, W. and Finn, P. Alcohol and Acquaintance Rape: Strategies to Protect Yourself and Each Other. The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention. U.S. Department of Education, 1999).
- Only five percent of undergraduate women reported their sexual assault to police. (Schwartz, M. and Leggett, M. Bad Dates or Emotional Trauma: The Aftermath of Campus Sexual Assault. Violence Against Women, Vol. 5, No. 3, March 1999).