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Laws, Definitions & Facts


Title IX

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded educational programs and activities. Under Title IX, sexual assault and sexual harassment are forms of discrimination on the basis of sex. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which enforces Title IX, has recently provided detailed guidance on how educational institutions like Northwestern must investigate and respond to complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Learn more in Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence from the Department of Education.

The Clery Act

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (the Clery Act) is a federal law and accompanying regulations that require colleges and universities to disclose certain timely and annual information about campus crime, and security and safety policies. Compliance with the Clery Act is a condition for universities, like Northwestern, that participate in the federal student aid program, and is administered by the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Office. As a part of its Clery program, Northwestern University collects and publishes statistical information on crimes occurring on and around campus, as well as relevant crime and safety information, in its annual crime and safety report.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

The federal Violence Against Women Act amendments and accompanying regulations (VAWA) clarify the duties of universities to investigate and respond to reports of sexual assault, stalking, and dating and domestic violence, and to publish policies and procedures related to the handling of these cases. Under VAWA, universities also must provide training to the campus communities on sexual misconduct. Compliance with VAWA is a condition for universities, like Northwestern, that participate in the federal student aid program, and is administered by the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Office. New VAWA regulations were published by the U.S. Department of Education in October 2014 and became effective July 1, 2105.  

Illinois Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act

Illinois Criminal Code

Consent: 720 ILCS 5/11-1.70

Domestic violence: 750 ILCS 60/103

Dating violence: Included under domestic violence. See above.

Criminal sexual assault: 720 ILCS 5/11-1.20

Criminal sexual abuse: 720 ILCS 5/11-1.50

Aggravated criminal sexual assault: 720 ILCS 5/11-1.30

Aggravated criminal sexual abuse: 720 ILCS 5/11-1.60

Stalking: 720 ILCS 5/12-7.3

Relevant definitions under the Illinois Criminal Code are contained in Appendix A to Northwestern’s Policy on Sexual Misconduct. You can read the Illinois criminal code on the Illinois General Assembly website.

California Criminal Code

Consent: PEN 261 (a) 1-7 PC

Lack of consent is described rather than explicitly stated, except in the case of physical or development disability.

Domestic violence: PEN 273.5 (a) PC

Dating violence: Included under domestic violence. See above.

Sexual assault (defined as “sexual battery”): PEN 243.4 PC; PEN 220 PC

Stalking: PEN 646.9 PC

Florida Criminal Code

Consent (defined within sexual battery statute): FS 794.011 (a)

Domestic violence: FS 41.28

Dating violence: FS 784.046

Sexual assault (defined as “sexual battery”): FS 794.011 (h)

Stalking: FS 784.048

Retaliation: FS 914.23

Washington, DC Criminal Code

Consent: DC Code 22-3001 (4)

Domestic violence (defined as “intimate partner violence”): DC Code 16- 1001 (7)

Dating violence: Included under “intimate partner violence.” See above.

Sexual assault (defined as “sexual abuse”): DC Code 22-3002, 3003, 3004, 3005, 3006

Stalking: DC Code 22-3133

Illinois Gender Violence Act

Under this Act, a person who has been subjected to gender-related violence may bring a civil action for damages, injunctive relief, or other appropriate relief against a person or persons perpetrating that gender-related violence. You can read more about this act on the Illinois General Assembly website.


Sexual Assault

Sexual penetration without consent (e.g. rape) {see definition below}, sexual contact without consent (e.g. fondling) {see definition below}, incest {see definition below}, or statutory rape {see definition below}.

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).


A course of conduct directed at a specific person that is unwelcome and that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety {or the safety of a third party) or suffer substantial emotional distress. Conduct that can amount to stalking may include two or more actions directed at another person, whether done directly, indirectly, through others, via devices, or via any other methods or means (specifically including electronic means).

Dating/Domestic Violence

Intimidation, harassment, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or interference with the personal liberty of any person by someone in an intimate relationship. Individuals encompassed in the definition of Dating Violence include, but are not limited to: persons who have or have had a dating relationship and persons who have or have had a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature. Individuals encompassed in Domestic Violence include, but are not limited to: current and former spouses, current and former domestic partners, intimate partners or dating partners who share or formerly shared a common dwelling, and persons who otherwise have a child in common or share a relationship through a child.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is an unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature where sexual favors are used or threatened to be used as a basis for academic or employment decisions (quid pro quo harassment); where the conduct creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive academic or working environment; where the conduct has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance; or where other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a person's ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity.

Sexual Penetration without Consent

Any penetration of the sex organs or anus of another person when consent is not present; any penetration of the mouth of another person with a sex organ when consent is not present; or performing oral sex on another person 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.

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, fondle, or contact oneself or someone else.


Sexual intercourse between persons who are related to each other within the degrees wherein marriage is prohibited by the laws of the state in which the incident occurred.

Statutory Rape

Sexual intercourse with a person who is under the statutory age of consent under the laws of the state in which the incident occurred.


Material adverse action taken against any individual for reporting, providing information, exercising one’s rights or responsibilities, or otherwise being involved in the process of responding to, investigating, or addressing allegations of sexual misconduct.


A knowing and voluntary agreement to engage in specific sexual activity at the time of the activity. In order to be valid, consent must be knowing, voluntary, active, present and ongoing. Consent is not present when an individual is incapacitated due to alcohol, drugs, sleep or other condition.


The inability to give consent because of age, physical condition, or disability that impairs the individual’s ability to provide consent. Reasons why one could lack capacity to give consent due to a physical condition includes, but are not limited to, consumption of drugs or alcohol (voluntarily or unvoluntarily) or being in a state of unconsciousness, sleep, or other state in which the person is unaware that sexual activity is occurring.


Information and Statistics about Sexual Misconduct

Provided by Northwestern's Center for Awareness, Response and Education (CARE)

A California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) study surveying more than 6,000 students at 32 colleges and universities in the U.S. indicates that:

  • 1 in 4 women had been victims of rape or attempted rape.
  • 84% of those raped knew their attacker, and 57% of the rapes happened on dates.
  • Only 27% of the women whose sexual assault met the legal definition of rape thought of themselves as rape victims.
  • 42% of the rape victims told no one about the assault, and only 5% reported it to the police
  • About 75% of the men and at least 55% of the women involved in acquaintance rapes had been drinking or taking drugs just before the attack.
  • According to the National Institute of Justice, rape is the costliest crime in the U.S., exacting $86,500 in tangible and intangible costs per victim.
  • Results of a 1997 study of sexual coercion within gay and lesbian relationships indicated that 52% of the total sample reported having experienced at least one incident of sexual coercion. 55% of the gay men and 50% of the lesbians in this study reported unwanted penetration. 33% of the gay men and 32% of the lesbians in this study reported unwanted fondling.
  • In 1992, the National Victim Center reported that 9 out of 10 rapes go unreported.

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