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Defining Sexual Assault

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Defining Sexual Assault


Sexual Assault

is when a person forces or pressures another person into unwanted sexual contact. This can be unwanted sexual penetration of the body or unwanted touching of private parts of the body. Some, but not all perpetrators force unwanted sexual contact when a victim is asleep, unconscious, under the influence of alcohol or drugs or physically helpless. Michigan law refers to sexual assault as “Criminal Sexual Conduct”.

Child Sexual Abuse or Molestation

is when a person has sexual contact with a child. In most cases, children know their abusers. Perpetrators can be family members, neighbors, coaches, teachers, clergy members, caretakers, family friends, or other trusted adults. Examples of child sexual abuse might include sexual touching, penetration, manipulating the child to do something sexual, or taking graphic photos of children. Perpetrators use grooming behaviors to gain a child’s trust and slowly introduce sexual contact.


is sexual assault or sexual abuse that involves penetration of the body. This is when a perpetrator forces sexual penetration upon someone who does not want it, who is intoxicated, or who is not legally old enough to give consent. All of these examples are rape. The word rape isn’t used in Michigan law, but it is common for people to use this term.


describes sexual contact between family members who are too closely related to marry. While incest may occur between consenting adults, this is not common. The majority of all reported incest is between a child and a close adult family member, like a parent.

Other Forms of Sexual Abuse

do not fit into neat categories. For example, sexual abuse includes a perpetrator having sex in front of children and making inappropriate comments to children. Another form of sexual abuse against adults and children is non-consensual pornography, sometimes called revenge pornography. This is when one person posts or publishes explicit or sexual photos of someone else without their consent.

Victim and Survivor

are both terms used to refer to someone who has been sexually assaulted. The word victim is most frequently used by the criminal justice and healthcare systems. It often refers to someone who has recently been assaulted or abused. The term survivor is often used by other helping professionals such as counselors and advocates. The word survivor is intended to recognize the courage and strength of someone who has been assaulted. Survivor also refers to the surviving family members of someone who has been murdered or died as the result of a crime. You get to choose the word that feels right to you. This site uses these words interchangeably.


is the term used on this site to refer to a person who sexually assaults another. Other terms that people use are abuser, assailant, or pedophile. The criminal justice system will use the term defendant if there has been a criminal charge and offender after there has been a conviction.


    • Contact

      No. It does not matter if you have agreed to sex or sexual contact with the perpetrator in the past. Past consensual sex or touching DOES NOT make it legal for the perpetrator to assault you or force you to engage in sex or touching that you do not want.

    • Relationship

      Yes. No one has the right to have sex with you unless you agree to it. Sexual assault in this type of relationship is also a form of domestic violence or dating violence. You may have additional worries about your safety or the safety of your children. To learn more about domestic violence and dating violence call or visit the national domestic violence hotline or find a domestic violence service program in your area.

    • Facilitate

      Using alcohol or drugs does NOT make you responsible when someone assaults you. It is common for sexual assault perpetrators to assault victims who have voluntarily used alcohol or drugs. Some perpetrators also give potential victims alcohol or drugs in order to assault them.   Some victims may still feel nervous about reporting a sexual assault because they fear getting into trouble for consuming alcohol or drugs. Typically, police will not bring drug or alcohol charges against a person who has reported a sexual assault in good faith.  Michigan has a law that says that a minor should not be charged for underage alcohol use if they seek healthcare for sexual assault or treatment for intoxication. MCL 436.1703 (10).  This law also protects a minor who accompanies an intoxicated friend to the health facility. 

    • Medical

      Sometimes an examination of private areas of your body is needed to stay healthy. The touch associated with medical examinations should be limited to those touches that are medically necessary. It is against Michigan law for a medical provider to sexually abuse you and pretend that it is an examination or part of medical treatment.
      You should expect the provider to: explain each part of any examination of your private areas; obtain informed consent from you to touch any intimate or private area, allow another person to be present in the room during  an exam, answer your questions, stop the exam if you ask, use gloves to examine internal or private areas, chart any such examinations in your medical records and only ask you to undress the parts of your body necessary for the examination.
      A medical provider should not:
      • examine or touch the genital areas without use of gloves, 
      • conduct an intimate exam in an unusual manner, such as conducting a breast exam from behind the patient; leaving both breasts exposed; or ordering the patient to assume positions to expose the patient’s genital or rectal areas, without clinical justification,
      • make sexual comments about a patient’s body, 
      • make sexualized or sexually demeaning comments; or comments about potential sexual performance during an exam, 
      • make genital to genital contact, mouth to genital contact, mouth to anal contact or genital to anal contact, rub or press their groin against a patient, touch breasts, genitals or any sexualized body part for any purpose other than appropriate exam or treatment or when patient has refused or withdrawn consent, 
      • encourage the patient to masturbate in the presence of the physician, expose their genitals to a patient, offer to provide drugs or other practice-related services in exchange for sexual favors, or
      • use the physician-patient relationship to solicit a date or romantic relationship. 
      File a complaint. You can report any unwanted touching or contact to the local police and the Michigan Department of Licensing or Regulatory Affairs. To check if your provider has been disciplined, visit


    • Males

      Research suggests that around one in six men have been sexually abused or assaulted, whether in childhood or as adults. Men and boys will experience many of the same feelings and reactions as female victims, but may have some different reactions and worries. Perpetrators of sexual assault can be any gender or sexual orientation, but most perpetrators are men. This can sometimes cause male victims to worry about their sexual orientation. It is not uncommon for men or boys to have an erection or ejaculate during the assault. It is important to understand that these are involuntary responses – meaning it’s the body’s natural response and you can’t help it. This does not mean that you enjoyed the assault or somehow asked for the assault to happen. Please don’t let this stop you from reaching out for help. Most helping professionals and criminal justice professionals will understand this involuntary response.

      Your local sexual assault services program or Michigan’s Sexual Assault Hotline is there to support you. More information for male victims is available at and an organization called 1 in 6.

    • Community

      Tribal members, people of color, undocumented people, immigrants, gay men, lesbians, transgender men and women and sex workers are sexually assaulted at higher rates than people from other communities or identities.  As a survivor from one or more of these communities you may also be impacted differently than other survivors of sexual assault. You may go through the same common reactions that most survivors experience, but you may also face additional challenges because of your race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, job or gender identity.  Your local sexual assault services program or Michigan’s Sexual Assault Hotline is there to support you. Please feel free to ask about their experience in serving survivors from your community or if they know of other referrals in your area that may have services specific to your community. See the resources section (link) of this site for more information.

    • Military

      Military sexual trauma is a term that the department of veteran’s affairs uses to refer to sexual assault, or repeated sexual harassment that occurred while a veteran was in the military. Survivors from the military may go through the same common reactions that most survivors experience.  You may also be impacted differently and experience different reactions that are specific to your military experience. You will likely have different worries about reporting, confidentiality, transitioning out of military service, and accessing counseling and other helping services.

      The Department of Defense (DoD) Safe Helpline provides live, one-on-one support and information to the worldwide DoD community. This service is confidential, anonymous, secure, and available worldwide, 24/7. Visit the Safe Helpline online for more information or to access live confidential help through secure instant-message format or call 877-955-5247.