There are many different formal, government-approved definitions of sexual assault. For example, the Department of Justice includes “forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape” as part of its sexual assault definition, and definitions vary slightly by state. But many of us, particularly women, experience daily microaggressions that are also sexual assault, but may not seem like it right off the bat.
In a world where sexual assault is often brushed under the rug and the rich and powerful get away with criminal behavior, it can be hard to name your traumas and recognize sexual assaults for the crimes they really are. But healing begins when survivors put names to their experiences, so in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we’ve outlined some things that may not initially seem like assault, but definitely are. If you ever feel like you’ve been violated and don’t know what to do, reach out to someone you can trust, whether it’s a friend, family member, or non profit organization. You’re not alone.
Here are six acts that can be considered sexual assault.
1Being kissed without your consent.
Whether it’s a boss who goes in for an unexpected—and unwanted—kiss, or a guy at a bar who buys you a drink then feels entitled to lean in, your body should never be touched without your consent. Any time you’re kissed, grabbed or fondled without wanting to be is sexual assault.
2A coworker “brushing by” you.
Ever had a coworker “squeeze past” you in a tight corner of the office, or “accidentally” brush by you in the communal kitchen? Those incidents could very well be sexual assault, especially if they have happened more than once, so don’t dismiss your feelings of discomfort. Most of us know innately when something is an accident—and when it’s definitely not. Trust your instinct.
3Touching by a doctor that seems over the line or inappropriate.
In the brilliant video above by former Friends star David Schwimmer—part of his #ThatsHarassment campaign—we see Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon go to the doctor for a sinus infection and end up receiving an inappropriate, and wholly unnecessary, breast exam. This kind of behavior is more common that you’d expect, and it counts as sexual assault. Don’t hesitate to report this kind of behavior if it happens to you.
It happens on the street, on public transit, and in public parks every day—a person exposes their genitalia to a stranger, and the victim quickly turns away in horror. But turning away isn’t your only option, since indecent exposure is considered a form of sexual assault. You can report this act to law enforcement, who will (hopefully) handle the situation.
5Sexual contact that takes place when you’re unconscious.
Whether you’re sound asleep or passed out after drinking, it’s absolutely considered sexual assault to engage in sexual contact with a person who’s unconscious. The unconscious person can’t consent. Period. The actions can be anything, ranging from kissing to touching to penetration, but make no mistake. If anything like this happens when you’re unconscious, it’s sexual assault.
6A “peeping Tom” watching you engage in sexual acts.
Being watched by a voyeur—without your consent—while you engage in a sexual act is considered sexual assault, so if you know you have a creepy neighbor, don’t be afraid to speak up about it.
If any of these incidents have happened to you, talk to someone about it. Whether it’s a therapist, coworker, friend, HR professional, or law enforcement official you trust, you deserve to be heard, validated, and cared for—whatever that means for you.