Sexual Assault Definitions

​People who have experienced a sexual assault may struggle to understand what happened to them and to define their experience as a “sexual assault” or “rape”. This may happen due to the lack of knowledge and comfort levels with these terms.

Sexual assault may be committed by boyfriends, girlfriends, friends, acquaintances, family, lovers, partners, and strangers and affects people of all ages, races, genders, sexualities, and abilities. Sexual violence does not discriminate. Sexual violence is often used as a way to hurt, humiliate or gain control over someone else. The fact that someone has been intimate with a partner in the past does not mean they have consented to any or all future sexual activity with that partner.  

Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is defined as physical sexual acts engaged without the consent of the other person or when the other person is unable to consent to the activity.  Sexual violence includes sexual assault, rape, battery, and sexual coercion; domestic violence; dating violence; and stalking.

​Sexual Assault

Sexual assault occurs when physical sexual activity is engaged without the consent of the other person or when the other person is unable to consent to the activity.  The activity or conduct may include physical force, violence, threat, or intimidation, ignoring the objections of the other person, causing the other person's intoxication or incapacitation through the use of drugs or alcohol, or taking advantage of the other person's incapacitation (including voluntary intoxication).

Dating Violence

Controlling, abusive, and aggressive behavior, which can include verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, or a combination of these during the dating process, in either heterosexual or same- sex relationships. The existence of a romantic or intimate relationship will be determined based on the length of the relationship, the type of relationship and the frequency of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship.

Domestic Violence

includes felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by:
  • a current or former spouse of the victim;
  • by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common;
  • by a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse;
  • by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under California law; or
  • by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under California law.


Stalking is behavior in which a person willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family.


Under California Penal Code 261, rape is summarized as sexual intercourse against an individual's will accomplished by force or threats of bodily injury; or fear that the victim or another will be injured if the victim does not submit to the intercourse; or where the victim is incapable of giving consent or prevented from resisting due to being intoxicated, drugged, or unconscious or asleep.

For more information go to Rape Abuse Incest National Network​​ RAINN


“Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity and it must be given without coercion, force, threats, or intimidation.

It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.

Consent cannot be given when a person is asleep or unconscious, or when a person is incapacitated due to the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication, to the extent that they cannot understand the fact, nature, or extent of the sexual activity, or if a person is unable to communicate due to a mental or physical condition.