Learn about consent and forms of sexual harassment.
Sexual violence is a term often used to encompass a variety of gender-based or sexualized forms of violence. Individuals of any age, gender, and sexual orientation can experience sexual violence, and perpetrators of sexual violence can be acquaintances, family members, romantic partners, or strangers.
View WPI policies on sexual harassment and misconduct.
Consent is the freely and affirmatively communicated words or actions that show a voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. Consent cannot be given if an individual is asleep or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.
- Clear and unambiguous; the absence of a “no” does not constitute consent.
- Enthusiastic and honest.
- A process – ongoing communication is critical! Consent to one activity does not indicate consent to another sexual activity, and consent can be revoked at any time.
Consent is not:
- Hesitant. “I guess so…” does not indicate enthusiastic consent.
- Implied from previous sexual activity.
- Assumed by partners in a relationship.
- Forced by violence, threat of violence, emotional pressure, or deception.
Sexual assault refers to any sexual act directed against another person against that person’s will and without that person’s consent. Sexual assault can include unwanted touching, groping, kissing, and rape or attempted rape.
Rape is defined as forced, manipulated or coerced sexual intercourse (or other penetrative sexual act) against the will of the victim. If the act occurs while the victim is unconscious, asleep or otherwise unable to communicate unwillingness, it is still considered rape.
Sexual harassment refers to unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment may create a hostile living, working, or academic environment. Behaviors that may constitute sexual harassment include, but are not limited to, display of sexually suggestive images, sexual jokes or comments, cat-calling, inquiries into one’s sexual experiences, sexual gestures, and implied reward or punishment for sexual behavior.
Dating Violence refers to violence committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim. Dating violence, or relationship abuse, is behavior that used to harm, control, or intimidate a romantic/sexual partner or former partner. This behavior can be physical, verbal, sexual, or emotional. Dating violence can occur between partners of any gender and sexual orientation. Some examples of dating violence and relationship abuse include: hitting, yelling, strangling, attempts to control time spent with others, attempts to limit access to financial resources, and forced sexual activity.
Domestic violence refers to violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim; and/or a person who is or was residing in the same household as the victim. This behavior can be physical, verbal, sexual, or emotional.
Stalking is repeated behavior or actions that cause an individual to fear his/her safety or experience emotional distress. Examples of stalking behaviors include unwelcome face-to-face or electronic communication, unwanted gifts, following or surveilling, spreading rumors, damaging property, and accessing private data, information, or communications.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to common questions about sexual violence.
1) What is the difference between a victim and a survivor?
Different individuals and groups may tend to use the words victims or survivors. Victims is often used in a legal setting, while survivors tends to be used by advocacy groups. Sometimes a victim is used to describe a person who has recently experienced sexual violence or is currently experiencing abuse, while survivor is used to describe a person who has begun to heal from the experience. We encourage anyone who has experienced sexual or relationship violence to use whatever word feels most comfortable.
2) How do you ask for or give consent (see definitions above)?
The best way to ask for or give consent is through verbal communication. The same language you might use to communicate your desires can be used to ask for consent. Some examples include:
- What would feel good for you?
- I’d like it if you…
- Would you like me to…?
- What would turn you on?
- Are you comfortable with…?
- Can I…?
- Would you want to…?
- Do you want to stop?
- Does it feel good if I…?
- What do you want to do?
- Is there anything you don’t want to do?
3) How do I know if my partner doesn’t want to consent?
The best way to establish consent is to ask. If your partner doesn’t seem comfortable with what you’re doing, stop and communicate with him/her. Be aware of the nonverbal cues your partner is giving you. Is your partner responding to your touch or does your partner seem stiff or frozen? Is your partner staying silent or providing affirmation? If you’re questioning whether your partner is giving consent, slow down and talk about it.
4) How does alcohol affect consent?
In order to give meaningful consent, a person cannot be incapacitated by alcohol or drugs. Incapacitation refers to significant impairment in decision making, comprehension, communicating, and motor abilities. Some signs that a person may be incapacitated include slurred speech, difficulty standing or walking straight, vomiting, or lack of awareness of surroundings.
In order to engage in consensual sexual activity, a person must understand what is going on and be able to communicate with a partner. There is no “legal limit” to alcohol consumption or BAC that indicates someone is “too drunk” to consent.
If you’re unsure if someone is incapacitated, don’t engage in sexual activity. You should be sure that your partner is capable of understanding what is happening and able to communicate with you.
5) What if both parties are incapacitated?
Alcohol or drug use is not an excuse for sexual assault. The initiator of the sexual act is responsible for gaining consent. If both parties are incapacitated, the fault lies with the person who initiates the nonconsensual sexual act.
6) What if I was drinking or using drugs when I was sexually assaulted?
If you have experienced a sexual assault, WPI is most concerned with your safety and recovery. Regardless of alcohol or drug use, no one deserves to experience sexual assault. You are encouraged to seek support and assistance from the Dean of Students Office and other resources on and off campus. You will not experience judicial consequences related to drug and/or alcohol use.
7) What is Title IX?
Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Many people think of women’s sports when they hear Title IX, but the law also addresses sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination, and sexual violence in educational institutions. Because of Title IX, schools must respond to incidents of sexual violence and harassment appropriately to protect student safety. For information about Title IX and what responsibilities schools have under federal law, you can visit https://www.justice.gov/crt/title-ix. You can also see a list of WPI’s Title IX coordinators.
8) What is the Clery Act?
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires colleges and universities to report information about crimes on their campuses. The law is named in memory of Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University student who was raped and killed in 1986. In accordance with the Clery Act, WPI publicizes crime data in the Annual Security & Fire Safety Report, which is available from WPI Police.
The Clery Act also mandates that campuses issue timely warnings to employees and students of serious threats and notify the campus community of emergencies and dangerous situations. WPI Police may alert the WPI community about an incident of sexual assault or harassment through a campus safety notification, but no identifying information would be included. To learn more about the history of the Clery Act and federal mandates, you can visit clerycenter.org