What Is Sexual Assault?

Last reviewed: 10/25/2023

Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact without consent. The definition of sexual assault varies based on context and geographical location. Sexual assault can encompass a multitude of forms such as nonconsensual kissing, groping, and/or penetration. Sexual assault can affect people of any gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or religion. In most cases, the survivor knows the person committing the harm against them.

Sexual assault can occur as a result of coercion, which is the practice of persuading someone to do something using pressure, manipulation, alcohol, drugs, other substances, or force.

    If you have been sexually assaulted, find out what to do.


    If someone you know has experienced sexual assault, find out how to support them.

    Coercion can take the form of:

    • Threats: “If you don’t have sex with me, I’ll break up with you.”
    • Insults, humiliation, put-downs, or guilt trips: “But I thought you loved me.”
    • Exploiting a power/privilege: using status/popularity, race/ethnicity, physical abilities, class, gender identity, or expression, etc.

    Sexual assault is one component of the larger umbrella term of sexual violence, which includes sexual harassment, stalking, and other forms of gender-based violence.