Our culture has this collective image of sexual assault that involves a stranger attacking and raping a woman with physical force — and yes, that certainly is sexual assault. But there are also many forms of sexual assault and a broad range of victims and perpetrators that don't fit this stereotype. Learning about them is necessary in order to support survivors who too often get invalidated and told they weren't actually assaulted — and necessary to dismantle the rampant rape culture at large in our society.
Sexual assault is "any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient," according to the United States Department of Justice. "Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape." This is a wide range of actions, many of which schools leave out in sex education — if they teach students anything at all.
When we use this definition, we see that sexual assault is even more common than we realized. For example, while it's often cited that one in five women experience sexual assault during college, that's when you only consider rape. When the Association of American Universities asked students about all unwanted touching for its 2015 Campus Climate Survey, they found that number to be one in three.
Here are some things we don't always think of as sexual assault that absolutely are. If one of them has happened to you, your experience is no less real or deserving of sympathy than a more stereotypical victim's.