Despite the abundance of stories on sexual assault in the news and the prevalence of the problem at large, many people still seem confused over what exactly it is. If you look for it, though, there's a lot of information online. For example, you'll find a number of tweets that explain sexual assault through just a quick Twitter search, because the internet has allowed many important conversations about rape culture and sexual consent to take place.
According to the Department of Justice, sexual assault is "any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient." This includes "forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape." There's a lot more that can be said, though, about what exactly is meant by "explicit consent" — and that's where the explanations of survivors and experts becomes useful.
Explicit consent must be verbal, non-coerced, continuous, informed, and freely given. When in doubt, it's always important to ask for consent — because sex without consent is sexual assault, even if the victim didn't say "no." To be more specific, here are some tweets that describe what exactly sexual assault is — and, in the process, also describe what consent is and is not.
1. "No" Always Means "No," But "Yes" Does Not Always Mean "Yes"
You may have heard that silence does not mean consent; only a "yes" does. But there are some cases when not even a "yes" constitutes consent. If somebody feels pressure to say "yes" or does not know what they're saying "yes" to (for example, if somebody says they're using protection but are not), consent remains absent.
2. Sexual Assault Does Not Always Involve Physical Force
Rather than talking about sexual assault or sexual misconduct broadly, we often hear specifically about rape — and rape that is physically forced. But limiting the discussion to this one narrow example leaves out the many instances of assault that involve psychological coercion and don't fit the standard and limited definition of rape (which currently only includes acts involving penetration, according to the Department of Justice) — and these forms are just as damaging.
3. Anybody Can Be A Victim
This tweet both makes the point that sexual assault is broader than physically forced sex and points out that anybody can be assaulted. This is important in a culture that still considers sexual assault a women's issue, even when one in 33 men experiences attempted or completed rape and gender-nonconforming people are more at risk than anyone.
4. There's No Such Thing As "Non-Consensual Sex"
People often describe sexual assault as "non-consensual sex," but it should not be considered sex at all. As a viral post by the Tumblr Social Network Hell points out, saying "nonconsensual sex" instead of "rape" or "sexual assault" is like saying "non breathing swimming" instead of "drowning."
5. Think Of Sex Like You Would Think Of Receiving Money
One analogy useful for understanding consent involves giving money versus stealing. If you take someone's money without their explicit permission, you are stealing, even if they've given you money before, even if they frequently donate money, and even if they didn't say "no" to you taking it.
6. Sexual Assault Hurts The Victim, Not The Perpetrator
This tweet responding to the Brock Turner case reminds us how devastating sexual assault is for the victim in a society that's too often focused on the perpetrator. Turner's father wrote a letter to the judge explaining the negative impact that the conviction would have on Turner, but as this tweet points out, the impact of sexual assault on the victim is far more severe. Half of women who have been sexually assaulted suffer from PTSD, according to a study in the McGill Journal of Medicine, and on top of this, sexual assault survivors also face devastating stigma and shaming.
7. Sexual Assault Is Never Excusable
The Brock Turner case also brought up another important point about sexual assault: The perpetrator is always to blame, and they are in fact a perpetrator, no matter what positive traits they possess. As writer Lauren DeStefano points out in this tweet, sexual assault is never excusable, and it is never the fault of the victim.
8. It's Not That Complicated
There are constantly new analogies coming out to explain what does and doesn't constitute sexual consent, but it's pretty simple: If somebody doesn't want you to do something and you do it, it's assault. If you don't know, ask. Tweets and videos explaining sexual assault are useful, but hopefully, one day we won't need them.
Images: Fotolia; all tweets used with permission.