What is sexual violence?

The Department of Education Office for Civil Rights defines “sexual violence” as “physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent.” Sexual violence includes rape, sexual assault or battery, sexual abuse and sexual coercion. While the use of force is sometimes present in an act of sexual violence, it need not be. Any form of sexual conduct without consent, with a minor (who by law cannot give consent) or with a person who is temporarily incapacitated from giving knowing consent (e.g., because of the influence of drugs or alcohol, sleep, illness, or any other reason) also constitutes sexual violence. All forms of sexual violence, as well as other forms of sexual harassment, are prohibited by the Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment, or Retaliation.

Defining Consent

“Consent” to sexual activity requires voluntary, positive agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity. Consent is active, not passive. Signals of consent must be part of a mutual and ongoing process, offered freely and knowingly.

It is the responsibility of the person who initiates the sexual activity to make sure that he/she has the other person’s consent.

It is important to remember:

  • Silence, by itself, cannot constitute consent.
  • Consent to one sexual act does not constitute or imply consent to a different sexual act.
  • Previous consent cannot imply consent to future sexual acts. Consent is required regardless of the parties' relationship status or sexual history together.
  • A verbal "no," even if it may sound indecisive or insincere, always indicates a lack of consent.

Communicating consent:

  • Consent to sexual activity can be communicated in a variety of ways, but one should presume that consent has not been given in the absence of clear, positive agreement.
  • While verbal consent is not an absolute requirement for consensual sexual activity, verbal communication prior to engaging in sex helps to clarify consent. Communicating verbally before engaging in sexual activity is imperative. However potentially awkward it may seem, talking about your own and your partner's sexual desires, needs, and limitations provide a basis for a positive experience.
  • Consent must be clear and unambiguous for each participant at every stage of a sexual encounter. The absence of "no" should not be understood to mean there is consent.
  • A prior relationship does not indicate consent to future activity.

Alcohol and drugs:

  • A person who is asleep or mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, is not capable of giving valid consent.
  • The use of alcohol or drugs may seriously interfere with the participants' judgment about whether consent has been sought and given.
  • Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs does not absolve the initiator of sexual activity from responsibility to obtain clear consent.
  • Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs does not make the non-initiating party responsible for non-consensual sexual conduct.
Student studying
Getting Help

If you have experienced sexual violence, your first step is to get to safety and seek medical assistance if needed. Then reach out to individuals and resources at North Park who can help you through the process of reporting the violence and seeking support.