Sexual Violence Terms and Definitions
Sexual violence is a multi-layered oppression that occurs at the societal and individual level and is connected to and influenced by other forms of oppression, in particular, sexism, racism, and heterosexism. On the societal level, it is the preponderance of attitudes, actions, social norms that perpetuate and sustain environments and behaviors that promote a cultural tolerance, acceptance, and denial of sexual assault and abuse. On an individual level, sexual violence is a wide range of sexual acts and behaviors that are unwanted, coerced, committed without consent, or forced either by physical means or through threats. Sexual violence is commonly motivated by a desire for power and control of the victim and is perpetrated through the use of sexual means. While often perpetrated by individuals against other individuals, sexual violence exists on a societal level through social norms that connect sexuality with violence and encourage the use of power to sexually control or dominate another individual. General environments, economics and industries too may exist and both benefit from and reinforce societal oppressions that support sexualized violence. Reproductive oppression, for example, whether forced pregnancies, forced abortions, or forced use of birth control also exist along this continuum of sexualized violence.
Sexual assault is a continuum and variety of types of sexual acts that are forced, coerced, or unwanted. Sexual assault can include, but is not limited to: rape, sexual threats and intimidation, incest, sexual assault by intimate partners, child sexual abuse, human sexual trafficking, sexual harassment and other forms of unwelcome, coerced, or non-consensual activity.
In reference to sexual assaults that are physical and do not meet the legal definition of rape, Section 13H of Chapter 265 in Massachusetts State Law applies the term "indecent assault and battery."
Sexual abuse is a term that is used to refer to situations that include multiple sexual assaults or threats of sexual assaults over time such as in cases of ongoing child sexual abuse or domestic violence that includes sexual assault. Sexual abuse often includes physical forms of sexual assaults, but may consist of verbal abuse or threats without physical contact. Sexual abuse may or may not include acts that meet the legal definitions of crime in Massachusetts.
Sexual harassment is unwelcome or unwanted sexual advances. These are not just physical or sexual acts, it also refers to an environment that is created by acceptance of sexual or gender influenced comment. Sexual harassment can occur in workplaces, schools, congregations, camps, community centers, and other places.
Rape is a legal term that is defined in Massachusetts by three elements: penetration of any orifice by any object, force or threat of force, and against the will of the victim. Consent cannot legally be given if a person is impaired, intoxicated, drugged, underage, mentally challenged, unconscious, or asleep.
Drug/Alcohol facilitated sexual assault/rape is a term used when perpetrators use drugs to make a victim incapacitated prior to a sexual assault. The drugs that have been most commonly cited include Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine. These drugs can be used to make someone tired and even pass out and they all have the side effect of impairing memory. However, the most commonly used drug in sexual assault is alcohol. Alcohol also can result in impaired memory, which makes remembering details and reporting the assault very difficult. If a person is under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, they may not be able to provide consent and therefore if a sex act occurs, a crime has been committed. This is true even if a person chooses to use drugs or alcohol. Even if the person used alcohol or drugs voluntarily, he or she is not capable of consent.
Date Rape is a term that originated when the public began to acknowledge that rapes were not only perpetrated by complete strangers but by people with whom you might be involved in a short-term or long-term dating relationship. We’re concerned that this term can be minimizing and misleading. First of all, it puts the emphasis on the relationship status as opposed to on the sexually violent act. In this way it can perpetuate norms that blame the victim for “dating” someone who committed this act or suggest some blurriness about what kind of sexual activity is to be expected in a dating relationship.
A significant percentage of rapes are perpetrated by someone that the victim knows—a partner or former partner, a family member, a friend or acquaintance. But these rapes don’t necessarily occur in the context of a “date.” By continuing to use the term “date rape” with regard to rape by someone known to the victim limits our understanding of the real extent of the problem. Rape by someone you know is particularly devastating because of the trust that has been violated and the difficulty in speaking out against someone who may be trusted and respected in your community.
Child Sexual Abuse is a term used to describe an ongoing series of sexual assault or threats against a child. Any sex act between an adult and a child under the age of consent is considered a sexual assault. Some sex acts between children may also be considered sexual assault if there is a significant age or developmental difference between the children.
For more information about child sexual abuse, including warning signs and definitions, visit Stop it Now, a national organization that works on prevention of child sexual abuse.
Statutory Rape is a legal term that describes any type of non-forcible sex act with a child under 16. In the Federal Code, sex act is defined as any type of sexual penetration (i.e. vaginal, anal, or oral) including any penetration of the vagina or anus by hands, fingers, or objects.
In Massachusetts statute, a child under the age of 16 is unable to consent to sexual activity. In situations where a perpetrator of any age has sexual contact with someone under age 14, the perpetrator could be charged with a crime. There are a variety of statutes that address indecent assault and battery and rape of children.
Rape Culture is a term that describes the environment that is created in society with the existence of cultural influences that promote and condone sexual violence. Rape culture, “is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent.”  The messages that we receive via media and popular culture, as well as from traditionally held beliefs about gender roles, has an impact on how we respond to reports and experiences of sexual violence.
View all Massachusetts State Laws regarding sexual violence, assault, abuse, harassement, and rape.
 Buchwald, Emilie, Pamela R. Fletcher, and Martha Roth. Transforming a rape culture. Rev. ed. Minneapolis, Minn.: Milkweed Editions, 2005. Print.