Uniform Definitions for Sexual Violence

Sexual Violence — Overall Definition Sexual violence is defined as a sexual act that is committed or attempted by another person without freely given consent of the victim or against someone who is unable to consent or refuse. It includes: forced or alcohol/ drug facilitated penetration of a victim; forced or alcohol/drug facilitated incidents in which the victim was made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else; nonphysically pressured unwanted penetration; intentional sexual touching; or non-contact acts of a sexual nature. Sexual violence can also occur when a perpetrator forces or coerces a victim to engage in sexual acts with a third party. Sexual violence involves a lack of freely given consent as well as situations in which the victim is unable to consent or refuse:
  • Consent Words or overt actions by a person who is legally or functionally competent to give informed approval, indicating a freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact.
  • Inability to Consent A freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact could not occur because of the victim’s age, illness, mental or physical disability, being asleep or unconscious, or being too intoxicated (e.g., incapacitation, lack of consciousness, or lack of awareness) through their voluntary or involuntary use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Inability to Refuse Disagreement to engage in a sexual act was precluded because of the use or possession of guns or other non-bodily weapons, or due to physical violence, threats of physical violence, intimidation or pressure, or misuse of authority
Sexual violence is divided into the following types:
  • • Completed or attempted forced penetration of a victim
  • • Completed or attempted alcohol/drug-facilitated penetration of a victim • Completed or attempted forced acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else
  • • Completed or attempted alcohol/drug-facilitated acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else
  • • Non-physically forced penetration which occurs after a person is pressured verbally or through intimidation or misuse of authority to consent or acquiesce
  • • Unwanted sexual contact
  • • Non-contact unwanted sexual experience
Penetration involves physical insertion, however slight, of the penis into the vulva; contact between the mouth and the penis, vulva, or anus; or physical insertion of a hand, finger, or other object into the anal or genital opening of another person. Penetration of Victim
  • Penetration of the Victim by Force - Includes completed or attempted unwanted vaginal (for women), oral, or anal insertion through use of physical force or threats to physically harm toward or against the victim. Examples include pinning the victim’s arms, using one’s body weight to prevent movement or escape, use of a weapon or threats of use, and assaulting the victim.
  • Penetration of Victim by Alcohol/drug-facilitation - Includes completed or attempted unwanted vaginal (for women), oral, or anal insertion when the victim was unable to consent due to being too intoxicated (e.g., incapacitation, lack of consciousness, or lack of awareness) through their voluntary or involuntary use of alcohol or drugs.
Victim was Made to Penetrate
  • Victim was Made to Penetrate a Perpetrator or Someone Else by Force - Includes times when the victim was made, or there was an attempt to make the victim, sexually penetrate a perpetrator or someone else without the victim’s consent because the victim was physically forced or threatened with physical harm. Examples include pinning the victim’s arms, using one’s body weight to prevent movement or escape, use of a weapon or threats of use, and assaulting the victim.
  • Victim was Made to Penetrate a Perpetrator or Someone Else by Alcohol/drug-facilitation - Includes times when the victim was made, or there was an attempt to make the victim, sexually penetrate a perpetrator or someone else without the victim’s consent because the victim was unable to consent due to being too intoxicated (e.g., incapacitation, lack of consciousness, or lack of awareness) through their voluntary or involuntary use of alcohol or drugs.
Victim was pressured verbally or through intimidation or misuse of authority to consent or acquiesce to being penetrated. Examples include being worn down by someone who repeatedly asked for sex or showed they were unhappy; feeling pressured by being lied to, or being told promises that were untrue; having someone threaten to end a relationship or spread rumors; and sexual pressure due to someone using their influence or authority (this is not an exhaustive list).
Intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person without his or her consent, or of a person who is unable to consent or refuse. Unwanted sexual contact can be perpetrated against a victim or by making a victim touch the perpetrator. Unwanted sexual contact could be referred to as sexual harassment in some contexts (e.g., school or workplace).
Sexual violence that does not include physical contact of a sexual nature between the perpetrator and the victim. This occurs against a person without his or her consent, or against a person who is unable to consent or refuse. Some acts of non-contact unwanted sexual experiences occur without the victim’s knowledge. This type of sexual violence can occur in many different venues (e.g., school, workplace, in public, or through technology). Non-contact unwanted sexual experiences include acts such as:
  • Unwanted exposure to sexual situations - pornography, voyeurism, exhibitionism (this is not an exhaustive list)
  • Verbal or behavioral sexual harassment - making sexual comments, spreading sexual rumors, sending unwanted sexually explicit photographs, or creating a sexually hostile climate, in person or through the use of technology (this is not an exhaustive list)
  • Threats of SV to accomplish some other end such as threatening to rape someone if he or she does not give the perpetrator money; threatening to spread sexual rumors if the victim does not have sex with them (this is not an exhaustive list)
  • Unwanted filming, taking or disseminating photographs of a sexual nature of another person (this is not an exhaustive list)
Methods used by the perpetrator to coerce someone to engage in or be exposed to a sexual act. The following are tactics used to perpetrate SV (this is not an exhaustive list):
  • Use or threat of physical force toward a victim in order to gain the victim’s compliance with a sexual act (e.g., pinning the victim down, assaulting the victim)
  • Administering alcohol or drugs to a victim in order to gain the victim’s compliance with a sexual act (e.g., drink spiking)
  • Taking advantage of a victim who is unable to provide consent due to intoxication or incapacitation from voluntary consumption of alcohol, recreational drugs, or medication
  • Exploitation of vulnerability (e.g., immigration status, disability, undisclosed sexual orientation, age)
  • Intimidation
  • Misuse of authority (e.g., using one’s position of power to coerce or force a person to engage in sexual activity)
  • Economic coercion, such as bartering of sex for basic goods, like housing, employment/wages, immigration papers, or childcare
  • Degradation, such as insulting or humiliating a victim
  • Fraud, such as lies or misrepresentation of the perpetrator’s identity
  • Continual verbal pressure, such as when the victim is being worn down by someone who repeatedly asks for sex or, for example, by someone who complains that the victim doesn’t love them enough
  • False promises by the perpetrator (e.g., promising marriage, promising to stay in the relationship, etc.)
  • Nonphysical threats such as threats to end a relationship or spread rumors
  • Grooming and other tactics to gain a child’s trust
  • Control of a person’s sexual behavior/sexuality through threats, reprisals, threat to transmit STDs, threat to force pregnancy, etc.

The definitions above are those used by the Center for Disease Control in their publication “Sexual Violence Surveillance. Uniform Definitions and Recommended Data Elements”