About Abuse

Sexual Assault / Rape

Updated: 
June 28, 2011

What is sexual assault?

The term “sexual assault” generally means unwanted sexual contact, or in other words sexual contact against your will, and without consent. The legal definition varies by state, but sexual assault and domestic violence organizations consider any unwanted sexual contact or activity, including rape, to be sexual assault.  Sexual assault or rape can happen to anyone regardless of gender, age, or sexual orientation.

Sometimes, people are sexually assaulted or raped by strangers, but even more often, people are sexually assaulted by someone they know – a friend, date, relative, acquaintance, or even a long-time partner or spouse.  According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among female rape victims, 51.1% of perpetrators were reported to be intimate partners, 12.5% family members, 40.8% acquaintances, and 13.8% strangers.*  There is often an overlap between domestic violence and sexual assault because one of the ways abusers harm their partners is through sexual assault.  It is estimated that between 40 and 45% percent of women in abusive relationships will also be sexually assaulted during the course of the relationship.**

Sexual assault or rape can happen to anyone regardless of gender, age, or sexual orientation. 

Legal definitions for crimes related to sexual assault vary by state.  We list some (not all) of the crimes related to sexual assault in each state on our Crimes page. 

* Sexual Violence Factsheet, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
** Tjaden, P. & Thoennes, N. (2000). Extent, nature, and consequences of intimate partner violence: Findings from the national violence against women survey.