The national conversation around sexual harassment and assault continues to grow. You may have questions about what sexual harassment and assault mean and what to do if it happens to you or someone you know.
Sexual assault is the use of force, coercion, or an imbalance of power to make a person engage in sexual activity without their consent. Sexual assault is sometimes called sexual abuse.
Rape is one form of sexual assault, but it’s not the only kind. Sexual assault can include forced kissing, touching, and groping, too. Legal definitions of these terms differ depending on where you live.
Sexual assault can happen to anyone. It happens to women, men, and people of all genders. However, women, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and people of color are more likely to experience sexual assault than other people.
Sexual harassment means unwanted, inappropriate sexual advances, including suggestive gestures, language, or touching.
Often, it’s used as a way to humiliate, insult, or degrade someone, or it’s done by someone who shouldn’t be making sexual advances — like your boss, someone older, a teacher, or someone else who has more power than you, even if it's just more social power.
But it doesn’t just happen at work or school. It can happen anywhere — in public and private, among friends, or from strangers on the street.
If you’ve experienced sexual assault or harassment, it’s not your fault. Know that you’re not alone and that there are people who will believe you and who are ready to help you if you want.
Your nearest Planned Parenthood health center can give you medical attention and connect you with services in your area. If you want to talk with someone anonymously, The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) has 24/7 phone and chat hotlines for people who have experienced sexual assault.
When it comes to sexual harassment, your best course of action depends a lot on the situation. Schools, places of work, and other institutions often have rules designed to protect people from sexual harassment. There may be administrators you can contact to make a complaint, and there may be legal actions you can take. Learn more about sexual harassment and what you can do if you’re sexually harassed.
You can prevent sexual assault and harassment by not taking part in it. Learn all about consent — what it means, how to ask for it, and how to respond if you don’t get it.
You can also intervene in situations that don’t look or feel right. For example, if you see someone taking advantage of someone who is drunk or passed out, you may be able to prevent a sexual assault from happening by stepping in or getting help.
If you’re a parent, teach your kids about consent and treating other people with respect. Starting in preschool, teach your child about their body and and be clear about when other people are allowed to see or touch their body parts. As your kid grows up, talk plainly about sexual consent. Read about talking to your kids about consent, sexual abuse, staying safe and more.
As a friend, family member, or member of a community, you can disrupt the culture of secrecy that allows sexual assault and harassment to continue by believing survivors and giving them your support.