Defining Sexual Violence

Sexual violence refers to any type of unwanted sexual behavior or contact that occurs without freely given consent. Sexual violence can take the form of many behaviors, including but not limited to:

  • Rape (sexual penetration against a person’s will)
  • Attempted rape
  • Incest (sexual penetration or contact between family members)
  • Unwanted sexual touching or fondling
  • Sex with someone who is unconscious or incapacitated by alcohol or drugs
  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Flashing and indecent exposure
  • Use of hidden cameras to record sexual activity without consent
  • Sending unsolicited nude pictures or pornography
  • Distributing someone else’s nude pictures or sexual information without consent
  • Peeping or spying for sexual gratification
  • Sexual contact with a minor (child sexual abuse)
  • Using status or power to coerce someone into sex
  • Removing condom or other forms of protection without partner’s consent

While each state also has its own legal definition and criminal code regarding different forms of sexual violence, Northwestern University has developed its own school-wide definitions including:

Sexual Penetration without Consent: 

“Any penetration of the sex organs or anus of another person when consent is not present, or any penetration of the mouth of another person with a sex organ when consent is not present. This includes penetration or intrusion, however slight, of the sex organs or anus of another person by an object or any part of the body, specifically including cunnilingus, fellatio, vaginal intercourse, and anal intercourse.”

Sexual Contact without Consent: 

“Knowingly touching or fondling a person’s genitals, breasts, thighs, groin, or buttocks, or knowingly touching a person with one’s own genitals, breasts or buttocks, when consent is not present. This includes contact done directly or indirectly through clothing, bodily fluids, or with an object. It also includes causing or inducing a person, when consent is not present, to similarly touch or fondle oneself or someone else.”

Sexual Exploitation:

“Taking sexual advantage of another person without consent (e.g. voyeurism, indecent exposure, recording a person’s intimate activity without consent, distributing sexual information without consent, or inducing incapacitation with intent to engage in sexual conduct).

Additional information on Northwestern’s Sexual Misconduct Policy is available here.

Information on the state definition is available in the Illinois Criminal Code