Sexual violence occurs when an individual or group engages in activities that violate another’s sexual boundaries. Communicating boundaries and practicing affirmative consent are critical parts of sexual intimacy. For this reason, Sarah Lawrence College adheres to an affirmative consent standard.

Sarah Lawrence College maintains an affirmative consent standard consistent with New York State Education Law: 

Affirmative consent is a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity. Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent. The definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant's sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.  

Sarah Lawrence College adheres to the following guiding principles regarding Affirmative Consent: 

  • Consent to any sexual act or prior consensual sexual activity between or with any party does not necessarily constitute consent to any other sexual act. 
  • Consent is required regardless of whether the person initiating the act is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. 
  • Consent may be initially given but withdrawn at any time. Consent cannot be given when a person is incapacitated, which occurs when an individual lacks the ability to knowingly choose to participate in sexual activity. Incapacitation may be caused by the lack of consciousness or being asleep, being involuntarily restrained, or if an individual otherwise cannot consent. Depending on the degree of intoxication, someone who is under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicants may be incapacitated and therefore unable to consent. 
  • Consent cannot be given when it is the result of any coercion, intimidation, force, or threat of harm. 
  • When consent is withdrawn or can no longer be given, sexual activity must stop. 

Note: The affirmative consent standard may differ from, and be more specific than, definitions of consent under relevant criminal or civil laws. For a definition of consent under New York State law, see the SLC Student Handbook, Appendix 1.

The below definitions are from the Policy on Sexual Violence, which can be found within the Student Handbook. See the most recent Student Handbook for the most up-to-date policy definitions.

Sexual Assault{expander}

Sexual assault is defined as engaging in sexual activity without consent, including having sexual contact or sexual intercourse with another individual without consent.
  1. Sexual contact without consent: Any intentional and knowing contact or fondling with the intimate parts of another, causing another to touch one’s intimate parts, or disrobing or exposure of another (whether involving physical contact or not) without permission, or with a person incapable of providing consent. Intimate parts may include the breasts, genitals, buttocks, groin, mouth, or any other part of the body that is touched in a sexual manner. This also entails contact done directly or indirectly through clothing, bodily fluids, or with an object. Sexual contact also includes attempted sexual intercourse.
  2. Sexual intercourse without consent: Any penetration of the sex organs or anus of another person when consent is not present; any penetration of the mouth of another person with a sex organ when consent is not present; or performing oral sex on another person when consent is not present. This includes penetration or intrusion, however slight, of the sex organs or anus of another person by an object or any part of the body.
  3. Statutory rape: Under the law in New York, sexual activity is deemed to be nonconsensual if between a legal adult (age 18 or older) and a person under 17 years of age, except that persons 15 years of age or older may be deemed capable of consenting to sexual activity with another who is four years older or less. For a more detailed discussion of these laws and their impact on the ability to consent, see the Student Handbook, “Appendix 1: New York State Penal Code."

Sexual Exploitation{expander}

Sexual exploitation is taking nonconsensual or abusive sexual advantage of another person for a person’s own advantage or benefit, or violating the sexual privacy of another when consent is not present. This includes, but is not limited to, the following actions (including when they are done via electronic means, methods, or devices):

  • Sexual voyeurism, such as permitting others to witness or observe the sexual or intimate activity of another person, in a state of undress, or in a place and time where such person had reasonable expectation of privacy (such as a changing room, toilet, or shower) without that person’s consent.
  • Recording any person engaged in sexual or intimate activity in a private space without that person’s consent.
  • Disseminating, streaming, or posting sexual information, images, or recordings about another person without that person’s consent as of the time of the dissemination, streaming, or posting.
  • Recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining another person for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
  • Exposing or inducing others to expose themselves when consent is not present.
  • Knowingly exposing or transmitting a sexually transmitted disease or infection (STD or STI) or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to another person.
  • Inducing incapacitation in another person without their consent or knowledge with the intent to engage in sexual conduct, regardless of whether prohibited sexual conduct actually occurs. Sexually based stalking and/or bullying can constitute sexual exploitation, in addition to constituting independently prohibited conduct under the Policy on Sexual Violence.

Sexual Harassment{expander}

Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors, or other unwanted or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, whether verbal, nonverbal, graphic, physical, or otherwise, when one or more of the following conditions are present:

  1. Quid Pro Quo:
    • Submission to or rejection of such conduct is made, either explicitly or implicitly, a term or condition of a person’s employment, academic standing, or participation in any College program and/or activity, or is used as the basis for College decisions affecting the individual.
    • Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for decisions affecting the individual, such as grading; acceptance into a course, program, or team; advancement, promotion, hiring, or retention.
  2. Hostile Environment: A hostile environment exists when the conduct is sufficiently severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it unreasonably interferes with, limits, or deprives an individual from participating in or benefiting from the College’s education or employment programs and/or activities. The existence of a hostile environment is to be judged both objectively (meaning a reasonable person would find the environment hostile) and subjectively (meaning the impacted individual felt the environment was hostile).

Examples of conduct that may constitute sexual harassment include but are not limited to:

  • Pressure for a dating, romantic, or intimate relationship;
  • Unwelcome sexual advances;
  • Unwelcome touching, kissing, hugging, or massaging;
  • Pressure for or forced sexual activity;
  • Unnecessary references to parts of the body;
  • Sexual comments or references;
  • Sexual innuendoes, gestures, or humor; or
  • Sexual graffiti, pictures, or posters.

Relationship Violence{expander}

Relationship violence, or intimate partner violence, includes dating violence and domestic violence — both of which are prohibited.

i. Dating violence. Any abusive or violent behaviors (including but not limited to emotional, physical, sexual, and financial abuse or threat of abuse) between two people committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the person who has been subjected to such abusive or violent behaviors, where the existence of such a romantic or intimate relationship shall be determined based on a consideration of the following factors:

    • The length of the relationship;
    • The type of relationship; and
    • The frequency of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship.

This violation includes behavior that seeks to establish power and control over another person by causing fear of physical violence or sexual abuse or assault. Dating violence can be a single act or a pattern of behavior, depending on the frequency, nature, and severity of the conduct.

ii. Domestic violence. Any abusive or violent behaviors (including but not limited to emotional, physical, sexual, and financial abuse or threat of abuse) between two people that is committed by:

  • The current or former spouse of the person who is subjected to the acts of abuse or violence;
  • A person with whom the person subjected to such abusive or violent behaviors shares a child in common;
  • A person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the person subjected to abusive or violent behaviors; or
  • Any other person against an adult or youth who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of New York State.

This behavior seeks to establish power and control over another person by causing fear of physical or sexual abuse or violence. Domestic violence can be a single act or a pattern of behavior, depending on the frequency, nature, and severity of the conduct.


Stalking is knowingly engaging in an unwanted course of conduct directed at a specific person that one knows or should know would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of others, or suffer substantial emotional distress. “Emotional distress” means significant mental suffering, anxiety, or alarm.

Conduct that can amount to stalking may include actions directed at another person, whether done directly, indirectly, through others, via devices, or via any other methods or means (specifically including electronic means, e.g., cyberstalking), including but not limited to:

  • Following a person.
  • Being or remaining in close proximity to a person.
  • Entering or remaining on or near a person’s property, residence, or place of employment without permission and without a legitimate purpose.
  • Monitoring, observing, or conducting surveillance of a person.
  • Threatening (directly or indirectly) a person.
  • Communicating to or about a person.
  • Giving gifts or objects to, or leaving items for, a person.
  • Interfering with or damaging a person’s property (including pets).
  • Engaging in other unwelcome contact when that behavior causes fear of harm or substantial emotional distress and that fear or distress is a reasonable response to the behavior

There are many misconceptions about to whom, what, and how how sexual violence occurs. However, many of our preconceived notions are untrue. Disspelling such judgements and beliefs are important for understanding the gravity of what sexual violence is and how it impacts our community. Listed here are some facts about sexual violence that are commonly misconstrued by the media, society, etc. Click the drop down for more information regarding each fact.

Persons of all sexes and gender identities can be survivors of sexual violence. {expander}

Sexual violence can happen to anyone and be perpetrated by anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality. A common misconception is that women are the only survivors of sexual violence. While over 50% of women have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact in their lifetime, the statistics show that they are not alone. 

Men, and specifically men attending college, can also be victims of sexual violence. According to the CDC, almost 1 in 3 men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact in their lifetime. 

Statistics have shown that transgender students and members of the LGBTQ+ community experience sexual violence at a higher frequency when compared to their peers. For more statistics about how the LGBTQ+ community is impacted by sexual violence, visit:


Sexual violence can occur even if the survivor did not fight back. {expander}

If a survivor did not consent, the act was assault. Consent cannot be obtained if intimidation, coercion, force, threats, fraud, or fear are present.  Additionally, consent should be enthusiastic. You are looking for the presence of a “yes,” rather than the absence of a “no.” 

Sarah Lawrence College adheres to an affirmative consent standard. Affirmative consent is a knowing, active, voluntary, present, and ongoing mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent. It is the responsibility of the person initiating sexual activity to ensure that affirmative consent to that activity, and all sexual acts, has been given.

Consent must be acquired for each sexual act, every time.{expander}

The fact that a person has consented to something once before does not mean they always give consent. Additionally, consent is required for all types of sexual activity. Consent to one type does not imply consent to other sexual acts. 

It is possible for a spouse or significant other to perpetrate assault. Acquiring consent must be ongoing in relationships, and is not something that can be assumed or required by a partner. In healthy relationships, you should feel free to discuss boundaries and what kinds of activities you feel comfortable with consenting to. But again, consent for something in one instance does not mean consent for something in the future.

No one is ever "asking for it."{expander}

Sexual violence is an act of  degradation, an unwanted violation of one's body. The idea that survivors were "asking for" such violence is a tactic of rape culture, intended to blame survivors for violence directed at them. Consent cannot be inferred by an individual’s manner of dress, the giving or acceptance of gifts, the acceptance of an invitation to go to a private room or location, or going on a date. Individuals incapacitated by drugs and/or alcohol are not properly able to give consent. Similarly, there is no situation in which a sexual act is “owed” or required. 

Rape is an act of violence and is about control.{expander}

Rape is not sex. Rape is an act of violence, domination, and control. Rape is not a way to show affection, attraction, love, or desire. Perpetrators of rape are able to control themselves and stop at any time.

Sexual violence does not only occur between strangers.{expander}

In most cases, victims of sexual violence know the perpetrator. RAINN reports that 8 out of 10 sexual assaults will be committed by someone known to the victim. This can include violence between intimate partners, friends, acquaintances, family members, etc. When sexual violence occurs between individuals who know each other, they may believe that they were encouraging it in some way. It is important to remember that this is not the case. Violence is always the fault of the perpetrator.  

Moreover, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that 80 percent of all rapes and cases of sexual assault do not involve a weapon. Pressure and force can come from emotional manipulation, threats, fear tactics, and other sources besides weapons.

Sexual violence is not an indicator of the sexuality of the victim or the perpetrator.{expander}

Perpetrators of sexual violence use harassment, assault, rape, and other acts to gain control over their victims. 

For example, men who rape and assault other men may identify as straight. Rape in such instances is not about sexual attraction; it is about power.

The victim's biological response to sexual assault does not indicate consent.{expander}

Nor does it represent a positive emotional response. Signs of sexual arousal, climax, and orgasm are involuntary biological responses. They are a result of physical touch and extreme stress. 

Perpetrators of sexual violence can use these responses in order to confuse or manipulate their victims. It is important to remember that these biological responses do not serve as consent or proof of enjoyment.

Apart from sexual arousal, another common biological response for the body during times of stress or trauma is to freeze. Freezing or the lack of fighting back against a perpetrator does not indicate consent. The only acceptable form of consent is what is detailed in the definition of affirmative consent.

There are several factors to consider when discussing sexual violence. The following concepts are provided to help give you a more in-depth perspective on how attitudes and thoughts concerning sexual violence pervade our society.


When thinking about identity and sexual violence, it is important to understand that gender identity is not the same as biological sex. Gender is a spectrum, and individuals can choose to identify in endless ways. Nonetheless, people are categorized by those around them, sometimes in terms that are at odds with how they see themselves. People who identify as "cis-gender"—those whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth—may experience this less as a problem. Transgender individuals are often subjugated through intentional misidentification, even being described as "it." This mis-gendering and un-gendering is closely linked with heteronormativity—the assertion that only a male gender and a female gender exist.


Heteronormativity is the normative claim recognizing only two genders: male and female. This restrictive perspective asserts that people only fall into either of those categories and that relationships—as well as sex—only occur between cis-gendered men and women.


When considering risk in the context of sexual and gendered violence, it is important to acknowledge that it is not the survivor's duty to eliminate risk. Therefore, it is not the survivor's responsibility to change their behavior; their behavior is not the problem.

We can reduce risk through increased awareness of sexual violence, by educating ourselves and others about healthy sexual practices like affirmative consent, and by being accountable for our actions in relation to sex and consent.

Rape Culture{expander}

A rape culture encourages, condones, or ignores sexual aggression and gendered violence. Many people believe that in the West today we live in a culture of violence that, when expressed in relation to sex and gender, manifests as rape culture. Because we live in a culture where sexual assault and discrimination is excused, brushed off, or ignored, survivors of sexual violence are often blamed for their abuse.

 It is important to remember that rape and sexual assault can happen to anyone: men or women (cis-gender or transgender) as well as those who are gender queer or gender nonconforming. Sex workers can be rape victims. Someone can be raped or assaulted regardless of their race or socioeconomic status, their sexual orientation, the clothing and makeup they are wearing, their sexual past, or their relationship to the perpetrator. No one is ever "asking for it."

It is important to remember that not all perpetrators are masked men hiding in bushes. Although rape can be perpetrated by a stranger, it is far more common for a survivor to know the person who assaulted them. This is commonly referred to as "acquaintance rape." The Rape, Assault, and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that 73 percent of all sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger.

Survivor Blaming & Slut Shaming{expander}

Rape culture characterizes assault as a natural consequence of provocation. This flawed perspective perpetuates the myth that sexual violence is the survivor's fault and is expressed in behavior as "survivor blaming." One of the most common forms of survivor blaming is known as "slut shaming," which is characterized by comments such as "they deserved it or were asking for it because they were…"

  • Walking around late at night]
  • In a relationship with their rapist
  • Not fighting back
  • Alone
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Making eye contact with an attacker
  • The individual's self-presentation - clothing and make up - and sexual history are often used to explain and excuse assault.

Hypermasculinity & Violence{expander}

Hypermasculinity is an exaggeration of stereotypical male behavior emphasizing physical strength and aggression. Hypermasculinity is often a factor in acts of gender-related and sexual violence. Research has found that hypermasculinity is associated with sexual and physical aggression, particularly towards women and feminine people.


The notion of intersectionality recognizes how power in society stems from multiple and interconnected gender, class, and race-based subordination. Rather than a "single-axis" framework in which race, gender, class, and ability are treated as mutually exclusive categories of experience, intersectionality takes into account the overlap in identities that make discrimination and suppression more acute.

 Intersectionality is important when thinking about sexual violence. It shapes the survivor’s experience of violence and their response (and often the response of those in positions of power), and because it represents a factor of risk of sexual violence. That is, some marginalized identities increase an individual's risk of assault, and the more of those identities a person carries, the greater the risk of sexual violence.