What is Sexual Assault? Defining Sexual Violence

The terms "sexual assault," "sexual violence," and "sexual abuse" are often used interchangeably, though it may be more common to hear one term versus another in certain circumstances. Sexual violence is commonly used when referencing violence on a global scale, or talking about the continuum of sexual violence. Sexual abuse is more commonly used when talking about the sexual assault of children and youth.

WCSAP generally uses the term sexual assault to encompass a range of experiences identified by survivors.

Sexual assault occurs when a person is forced, coerced, and/or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity. Sexual assault is an umbrella term that includes a wide range of victimizations which may or may not involve force or be illegal.

The dynamics of sexual assault are complicated. Typically, sexual assault is not about sex, but about manipulation, exploitation, and exerting power and control over another person. Sexual assault is a tool of sexism, or sexist oppression, and perpetrators use sexual assault as a weapon to humiliate and dominate others.

There is no one kind of person who experiences sexual assault. We know that sexual assault affects people from a wide variety of backgrounds. The stories and statistics show us that sexual assault crosses boundaries of race, class, culture, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexuality. Perpetrators use sexual assault as tool of oppression. People who identify as members of oppressed or marginalized communities experience the intersections of other oppression (e.g. racism, homophobia) and sexual violence as well as greater rates of sexual assault.