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Sexual Violence Definitions and Explanations

IUP Haven Project

What is Sexual Violence?

Sexual violence violates a person’s trust and feeling of safety. It occurs any time a person is forced, coerced, and/or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity. The continuum of sexual violence includes rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, date and acquaintance rape, statutory rape, marital or partner rape, sexual exploitation, sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, and voyeurism.

What is Sexual Assault?

According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, one out of every four females and one out of every six males have been sexually assaulted by the age of eighteen. That means that on a college campus, one out of every four women and one out of every six men may have experienced sexual assault.

Sexual assault occurs whenever an individual feels forced, coerced, and/or manipulated into unwanted sexual activity. Sexual assault includes rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, date and acquaintance rape, marital or partner rape, sexual exploitation, sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, and voyeurism.

Sexual assault can also occur when individuals are unable to consent to sexual activity, such as when a person is drunk, using drugs, or may be unconscious.

What is Dating/Relationship Violence?

Any act, attempt, or threat of force by a family member or intimate partner against another family member. Relationship violence is any harmful or unwanted physical, verbal, sexual, or emotional act inflicted by a casual or intimate partner with the intention of causing pain to another person. Dating and domestic violence occurs in all socioeconomic, educational, racial, and age groups. The issues of power and control are at the heart of family violence. The batterer uses acts of violence and a series of behaviors to gain power and control.

Behavioral Signs:

  • Intimidation: Smashing things, abusing pets, destroying victim’s property, displaying weapons
  • Threats: Making and/or carrying out threats to harm the victim, to commit suicide, to report him or her to child welfare, to make him or her drop charges
  • Isolation: Controlling what the victim does, sees, and reads, limiting who the victim talks to
  • Emotional abuse: Putting the victim down, calling him or her names, making him or her think he or she’s crazy, playing mind games

Warning Signs:

In your own relationship:

  • Being told by your partner who you can be friends with, what you can wear, and where you can go.
  • Your partner gets jealous.
  • Your partner puts you down or blames you for whatever goes wrong.
  • Your partner has been violent on other occasions.

Are You Safe? These tips can help keep you safe and protect you from becoming a victim of assault.

In Others: Someone involved in an abusive relationship might display certain behavioral signs, including:

  • Inconsistent explanations: Victims may provide inconsistent explanations as to the cause of their injuries due to fear of alerting others to the severity of their situation.
  • Alcohol abuse: Victims may use alcohol as a means of escape from their everyday reality of abuse.
  • Injuries in multiple stages of healing: Bruises are the most common form of injury and have the following stages of healing: purple to green to yellow.
  • Financial dependence: Batterers may have forbidden their partners from getting or keeping a job or may have kept secret the location and balance of bank accounts.
  • Lack of social support: Batterer may have controlled victim’s contact with friends, family, and the outside world. Such isolation limits her or his ability to obtain help with an escape.
  • Fear of severe physical attack: Batterer may use threats of attack to keep victim in a state of perpetual fear. The batterers may tell their victims that, if they leave, they will be killed.
  • Self-blame: It is not uncommon for victims to believe that the abuse is a result of their real or imagined offenses.
  • Belief that the violence is temporary or caused by unusual circumstances: Often batterers place blame for abuse on external sources, alcohol, work pressures, etc., and do not take responsibility for their actions.

How To Help A Friend These tips can help you be supportive of someone you care about who has been a victim of assault.

What is Stalking?

One in twelve women and one in forty-five men will be stalked during their lifetimes. Eighty percent of campus stalking victims know their stalker. Stalking is a crime in all fifty states.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that cause a reasonable person to feel fear. Stalking occurs when an individual follows a pattern of behavior that leaves someone else feeling afraid, nervous, harassed, or in danger.

The impact of stalking can be profound and world-altering. Individuals who are stalked often change many of their behavior patterns and have strong emotional responses to the stalking.

Stalking can be:

  • Repeated undesired contact (phone calls, e-mails, letters, showing up unexpectedly, etc.)
  • Following
  • Making threats to the individual or her or his family
  • Any other behavior used to contact, harass, track, or threaten the individual

Some responses to stalking include:

  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Nervousness
  • Isolation


Cyber-stalking is characterized by threatening behaviors and unwanted advances directed from one individual to another over the Internet and other on-line and computer communications.

Cyber stalking can take forms such as:

  • Threatening/obscene e-mail
  • Live chat harassment or flaming (on-line verbal abuse)
  • Tracing victim’s computer and Internet activity
  • Can include off-line stalking/harassment

To find out more about Pennsylvania Statutes and Consolidated Statutes under Title 18, Crimes and Offenses, follow this link to The Mission of is to provide easy-to-understand legal information and resources to women living with or escaping domestic violence or sexual assault.

Follow this link for additional resources