Sexual assault is defined as any kind of sexual activity that is unwanted, done by one person to another without consent. These acts may include coercion (being persuaded or manipulated into having sex) or rape (being forced to have sex by someone known or unfamiliar). If anyone says “Stop” or “No” during sexual contact, the other person must stop. If they do not stop they are committing sexual assault.
So how can you figure out if what happened was sexual assault? There are three main considerations in judging whether or not a sexual act was consensual (which means that both people are old enough to consent, have the capacity of consent, and agreed to the sexual contact) or whether the sexual act is a crime. Therefore, here are a few questions to consider:
In Michigan, 16 is the age of legal consent. People below this age cannot legally agree to have sex. In other words, even if the child or teenager says yes, the law says no. Generally, “I thought she was 18” is not considered a legal excuse – it’s up to everyone to make sure their partner is old enough to legally take part in sexual contact.
People who cannot legally give consent:
If someone uses force or coercion to make another person have sexual contact that is illegal and considered sexual assault. If someone threatens another person, their children, their pet, etc. to force them to have sexual contact then that is sexual assault.
People respond to an assault in different ways. Just because you didn’t resist physically doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape — in fact, many victims make the good judgment that physical resistance would cause the attacker to become more violent. Lack of consent can be expressed (saying “no”) or it can be implied from the circumstances (for example, if you were under the age of 16, or if you had a mental defect, or if you were afraid to object because the perpetrator threatened you with serious physical injury).
Sexual assault can occur when the offender and the victim have a pre-existing relationship (sometimes called “date rape” or “acquaintance rape”), or even when the offender is the victim’s spouse. It does not matter whether the other person is an ex-boyfriend or a complete stranger, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve had sex in the past. If it is non-consensual this time, it is sexual assault.
Just because you don’t remember being assaulted doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen and that it wasn’t rape. Memory loss can result from the ingestion of GHB and other “rape drugs” or from excessive alcohol consumption. That said, without clear memories or physical evidence, it may not be possible to pursue prosecution (talk to your local law enforcement for guidance).
Sexual assault can happen when the victim was unconscious or asleep. If you were asleep or unconscious, then you did not give consent. And if you didn’t give consent, then it is sexual assault.
Alcohol and drugs are not an excuse – or an alibi. The key question is still: did you consent or not? Regardless of whether you were drunk or sober, if the sex is nonconsensual, it is sexual assault. (If you were so drunk or drugged that you passed out and you were unable to consent, it was sexual assault. Both people must be conscious and willing participants.)
Know that what happened was not your fault, and no one deserves to be sexually assaulted.
If you suspect a friend or family member has been sexually assaulted, there are signs to look for. While there is no standard response, victims may experience a few, none or all of the following: