Defining Sexual Assault
The term "sexual assault" covers behavior from unwanted touching to rape. Each state has its own legal definition and criminal code, and thus definitions of acts that constitute sexual assault vary. These definitions are gender neutral because sexual assault happens to both females and males, although the vast majority of sexual assault victims are females.
Northwestern University defines sexual assault as:
Sexual Penetration without Consent: Any penetration of the sex orgrans, anus or mouth of another person when consent is not present.
Sexual Contact without Consent: Knowingly touching or fondling a person's genitals, breasts, thighs, groin or buttocks, or any other contact of a sexual nature (including by bodily fluids), when consent is not present.
Illinois State law defines sexual assault as:
Sexual penetration by force or threat of force or an act of sexual penetration when the victim was unable to understand the nature of the act or was unable to give knowing consent. (720 ILCS 5 Criminal Code of 1961 §12-13)
Any contact, however slight, between the sex organ or anus of one person by an object, the sex organ, mouth, or anus of another person, or any intrusion, however slight, of any part of the body of one person or of any object into the sex organ or anus of another person, including but not limited to cunnilingus, fellatio, or anal penetration. Evidence of emission of semen is not required to prove sexual penetration (720 ILCS 5 Criminal Code of 1961 §12-12(f)).
What is consent?
Sexual activity requires consent, which is defined as voluntary, positive agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity.
- Consent to sexual activity can be communicated in a variety of ways, but one should presume that consent has not been given in the absence of clear, positive agreement.
- While verbal consent is not an absolute requirement for consensual sexual activity, verbal communication prior to engaging in sex helps to clarify consent. Communicating verbally before engaging in sexual activity is imperative. However potentially awkward it may seem, talking about your own and your partner's sexual desires, needs, and limitations provides a basis for a positive experience.
- Consent must be clear and unambiguous for each participant at every stage of a sexual encounter. The absence of "no" should not be understood to mean there is consent.
- A prior relationship does not indicate consent to future activity.
Alcohol and drugs:
- A person who is asleep or mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, is not capable of giving valid consent.
- The use of alcohol or drugs may seriously interfere with the participants' judgment about whether consent has been sought and given.
- According to Northwestern’s Student Handbook, “The use of alcohol and/or drugs by one or more of the parties involved will not be considered a mitigating factor in cases of alleged sexual assault. In fact, such use may be considered as an aggravating factor if the effect of such use is deemed to have made the complaining party incapable of giving consent.”