Simply put, sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact. Types of sexual assault range from unwanted touching the body to forced penetration or rape.
Sexual assault is a serious issue on college campuses, as college students are one of the most at-risk groups in the country. Statistics show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men will be sexually assaulted during their college careers. What’s more, it is estimated that over 80% of all rapes on college campuses are committed by someone the victim knows , and at Cal Poly, most sexual assaults involve drugs and alcohol.
Often, people are unsure if they have been sexually assaulted, especially when the survivor knows his or her assailant. Survivors may feel they somehow invited the action or did not object forcefully enough. In reality, any sexual contact that you have not consented to is illegal.
In California, sexual assault is covered by Penal Code sections 220, 243.4, 261, 264.1,286, 228a, and 229, as well as Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 46 and is defined as any sexual act or attempted sexual act in which a person is threatened, coerced, or forced to comply against his/her will, or he or she is incapable of giving consent or is unconscious of the nature of the act.
In addition, the law identified several categories of sexual assault, which include:
- Sexual battery: Any unwanted touching of intimate body parts.
- Rape: Forced sexual intercourse that is perpetrated against the will of the victim or when he or she is unable or incapable of giving consent (i.e. is unconscious, asleep, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs), and may involve physical violence, coercion, or the treat of harm against the victim.
- Acquaintance rape: rape by a non-stranger who could be a friend, acquaintance, family member, neighbor, or co-worker.
- Date rape: rape by someone with whom the survivor has been, or is, a voluntary companion
- Spousal rape: rape by a victim’s spouse.
- Child molestation: any unwanted touching of intimate body parts when the survivor is under 14 years old.
- Sexual harassment: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tend to create a hostile or offensive work environment
- Statutory rape: An adult commits statutory rape when they engage in sexual intercourse with someone who is incapable of consenting to sex, including minors and physically and mentally incapacitated persons. States differ on their definitions regarding age of consent, minimum age of the victim, age differential, and minimum age of defendant in order to prosecute. The link below details each state’s specific statutory rape policies:
Cal Poly’s University Sexual Assault Policy includes definitions of sexual assault, how to report and resources available on campus and in the local community.
Here are some common examples of sexual assault that people may experience on a college campus:
- Someone grabs your breast or butt at a party.
- A date insists that you have sex even though you’ve said you don’t want to, even if you were the one to initiate kissing/intimate touching.
- Your boyfriend/girlfriend forces you to have sex.
- Someone takes advantage of you when you are inebriated.
- Someone pressures you to drink/take drugs, or slips you drugs without your knowing in order to have sex with you.
Consent is defined in penal code section 261.6 as positive cooperation in act or attitude pursuant to an exercise of free will. The person must act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge of the nature of the act or transaction involved. This means that in order for a sexual act to be considered consensual, the following four criteria must be satisfied:
- All participants are fully conscious, and are not incapacitated by drug or alcohol intoxication
- All parties have clearly communicated their willingness or permission
- All parties are positive and sincere, meaning that no manipulation or exploitation measures have been used to coerce a party into having sex.
- All parties have the opportunity to change their mind or withdraw their consent at any time during sexual activity.
In order to satisfy these requirements, there must be verbal communication about willingness and consent. It’s also important to note that a previous dating, marital, or sexual relationship does not constitute consent.
When a sexual assault has been committed, the fault always lies with the perpetrator. It doesn’t matter if the sexually assaulted person was drunk, dressed provocatively, was flirtatious, walked home alone, or trusted the perpetrator(s) enough to be alone with them. Some sexual assault survivors do not seek help because they blame themselves and worry that others will blame them for what happened. If you have been sexually assaulted, please, do not let this be a barrier to you getting the help and support you need.
Survivors of sexual assault may experience many symptoms after the event, including depression, increased anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, or intense memories of the event. Furthermore, men and women who have been sexually assaulted by someone they know may have difficulty with issues of trust and personal safety long after the assault. Some survivors even find in necessary to transfer or drop out of school for a period of time.
- Find safety: get to a place that feels physically and emotionally safe
- Get support: Call a friend or family member to be with you. If you do not know who to call, or do not feel comfortable calling a friend or family member, you can seek the assistance of a trained advocate who will provide support and assistance by contacting the SARP center at (805) 545-8888, or the SAFER program at Cal Poly at (805) 756-2282.
Call the police: If you chose to report the assault, it’s best to do so as soon as possible. The sooner the report is made, the greater the chances that the assailant will be apprehended. Even if you know the assailant, it is still rape. Even if you have been drinking, it is still rape.
- You also have option to make an anonymous report using SAFER’s confidential dropbox, located outside of the Gender Equity Center in building 65, UU 217
- Preserve evidence: If you think you may report the assault, do not shower, bathe, douche, or wash/destroy any clothing you were wearing at the time of the assault. If possible, do not disturb anything in the area where the assault occurred.
Get medical care: By going to the Sexual Assault Recovery and Prevention (SARP) Center or emergency room at your local hospital.
- It is important to assess for possible injuries, and be tested for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
- You can expect to get a physical exam that will be similar to a gynecological exam. This exam can detect distinct physical evidence of the assault that is not present with consensual sex.
- To ensure your personal safety and increase the chances of physical evidence being found, medical attention should be sought within 72-hours of the assault.
- Seek counseling and legal assistance if appropriate.
Title IX is a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972, which, in part, addresses issues of sexism in educational institutions. All college intuitions have a Title IX officer, who is in charge of making sure that sexual assault are handled appropriately and with the victim’s best interests in mind. At Cal Poly, our Title IX officer is Jean DeCosta, Dean of Students.
If a faculty or staff member is made aware of a student who has been sexually victimized, they are REQUIRED to report the incident to the Dean of Students. The Dean of Students will then call the student who has been assaulted and give them the choice to involve the school or do nothing. All faculty or staff members, including teachers, residential life staff, health service (NOT counseling service) employees and SAFER advocates are mandated reporters. There are two groups on campus, however, who are NOT mandated to report the names of victims to the Dean of Students. These include Counseling Services and Student Ombuds Services.
- Start by Believing- The most helpful thing you can do when someone discloses that they have been sexually assaulted is to believe them.
- Offer a safe place to stay until he or she is ready to be alone.
- Offer emotional support by asking what he or she needs.
- Encourage him or her to get help.
- If you need your own support, set up a counseling appointment, or talk to someone at SAFER or the SARP center.
While women and men can take protective measures to reduce their risk of being sexually assaulted, being sexually assaulted is NEVER the victim’s fault. Just because a person does not engage in certain protective measures does not mean that they are in any way responsible for being sexually assaulted. The best way to reduce sexual assault is for people to STOP committing sexual assault and to understand what is and is not consensual sex.
Some things you can do to protect yourself from a sexual assailant include:
- Trust your instincts: Don’t be afraid to leave a situation that feels uncomfortable.
Be assertive: An assertive person stands up for their rights, is aware of their personal boundaries before going into a situation, expresses self-confidence and self-respect, and effectively communicates their needs and wants by communicating the same message through voice, words, body posture, and facial expressions.
- Counseling may be helpful for you if you struggle with assertive communication.
- Set and enforce personal boundaries: You have the right to decide what happens to your body.
- Be aware of your environment: know the address of where you are going, where your companions are, and how you are planning on getting to and from the location.
- Acknowledge the presence of alcohol and drugs: Substances may interfere with your ability to think clearly, communicate effectively, and react appropriately. Limit your alcohol intake, and make sure that you do not leave your drink unattended.
- Safety in numbers: Watch out for your friends’ safety. Don’t leave a friend at a party, especially if they have been drinking or seem intoxicated.
- Get together with a first-time date in a public place: Make sure to let someone know where you are going and with whom.
Some things you can do to protect the community include:
- Get involved: with community prevention programs, such as the SARP center or Safer
Be proactive: The best way bystanders can assist in creating a community that is empowering and free of violence is to be proactive and diffuse problem behaviors before they escalate:
- Educate yourself about interpersonal violence AND share this information with friends
- Confront friends who make excuses for other people’s abusive behavior
- Speak up against racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes or remarks.
If you see something fishy, intervene!
- The “bystander effect” or “bystander apathy” occurs when people fail to intervene because no one else appears concerned. In many of these situations, those you are looking to for cues are themselves looking for cues from you or others. This prevents anyone from taking action!
- To learn more about bystander intervention, and about ways that you can play a role in protecting your community safe, click here.
While both men and women are victims of sexual assault, the majority of perpetrators are male. Men have the potential to be the most powerful tools in sexual assault prevention efforts by educating themselves on the issue, confronting negative behaviors of friends, and challenging their own behaviors and attitudes that may promote sexual assault.
- Approach gender and sexual violence as a MEN’S issue.
- Examine your own attitudes about women and men that may perpetuate sexism and violence against women.
- Make sure that the sex you are having is consensual. Do not accept the myth that “no” means “yes.” Understand that submission is not consent. Do not make assumptions about consent, actually ask for consent.
- Remember that having sex with someone who is drunk is sexual assault. If an individual is drunk, they cannot legally consent to sex.
- Communicate clearly how you feel and what you want. Listen to your partner. Do not rely on body language.
- Do not make assumptions about consent based on style of dress, body language, or previous sexual activity. ASK for consent.
- Do not remain silent or look the other way. Confront friends who are becoming disrespectful or abusive. Intervene when a friend is making a decision that could have devastating consequences.
- Interrupt actions, comments, or jokes that support rape and other acts of violence.
For links to sexual assault prevention campaigns targeted to males, click below:
To report an assault:
University Police Department (UPD)*
For medical treatment, SDI, and/or pregnancy testing (but not collection of evidence for legal purposes):
Cal Poly Health Services*
- (805) 756-2511
For medical treatment and collection of evidence for legal purposes
Suspected Abuse Response Team (SART)
- Business hours: (805) 781-4550
- After hours: (805) 781-4550
For confidential counseling:
Cal Poly Counseling Services
- (805) 756-2511
Sexual Assault Recovery and Prevention Center (SARP)
- (805) 545-8888
Sexual Assault Free Environment Resource Program (SAFER)*
- (805) 756-2282
Cal Poly Student Ombuds Services
- (805) 756-1380
Other campus resources:
Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities*
- (805) 756-2794
Dean of Students
- (805) 756-0327
*Mandated to report acts of sexual violence to Dean of Students, Cal Poly’s title IX officer. For more information about this, refer to the “Information about mandated referring” section.