Working Definitions

Two key points cannot be over-emphasized:

Any forced, coerced, unwanted, or nonconsensual penetration or insertion. The gender or sexual orientation of the survivor or offender are irrelevant.

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), which tracks crimes reported to the police, considers only "forcible" rape of a woman by a man. The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which will replace the UCR, is gender-neutral. A 1991 pilot of the NIBRS found that 10% of rapes didn’t fit the UCR definition: in 8.9% of the rapes the victims were male.

sexual assault
Any forced, coerced, unwanted or nonconsensual sexual touch, including rape. The "sexual" nature of the touch is defined by its impact on the survivor.

AVP doesn’t distinguish between sexual assault and rape in its services, case management, statistics, service provider training, or public education activities, with one exception. AVP assumes that rape incurs serious physical injury requiring medical attention, regardless of the survivor’s assessment of their physical condition and medical needs.

for the purposes of this presentation, a survivor is anyone who has been sexually assaulted or raped. [contrast: victim, client]

Consent is not unlimited

hypothetical situation: cappucino mugging

Consent places bounds on activities. A man may consent to romance but not touch, touch but not sexual touch, sex but not romance. A man may consent to bondage but no sex, or “rough” sex but no restraints. The absence of “no” does not mean “yes.” The bounds of consent must be negotiated between peers: two people who come to the situation as equal partners. If either person has power over the other, consent cannot be freely given and coercion characterizes the exchange.

Consent places limits on circumstances. A man may consent to a specific sexual activity with one partner and not another, or with the same partner at one time and not another. Consent may be withdrawn at any time. “No” and “stop” mean what they say. The only exception would be when “safe” words or signals have been negotiated beforehand; for example, partners in an s/m scene may agree that “green” means go ahead, “yellow” means stop what you’re doing and “red” means the scene ends now.

Cooperation is not consent

Cooperation does not mean consent. Agreement may denote cooperation rather than consent. It may be necessary to cooperate with an attacker to survive the assault or minimize additional physical injury. The survivor had to assess the consequences of saying “yes” rather than “no;” those consequences and his assessment of them must be considered.

“Robert” was tied up and sexually assaulted at knife point by a man he’d picked up at a cruising area. In counseling, Robert said he felt that he “should have done something” to stop the man sooner. The counselor assured Robert that whatever he did, or didn’t do, to survive a life-threatening situation was the right thing to do.

Note that force or coercion need not be explicit in the current incident. A history of violence can be used to extract cooperation in the present to avoid future violence, for example: when a man is sexually assaulted by an abusive partner. Asking “Did he threaten you?” is not sufficient to determine whether or not the current incident was consensual. It’s also necessary to establish whether or not there’s a history of threats, coercion or violence by the offender against the survivor.

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