Sexual Violence


As defined in Penn’s Policy, sexual violence is a term that identifies a range of behaviors in which an act of a sexual nature is perpetrated against an individual without consent or when an individual is unable to give consent. There are other types of gender-based misconduct such as harassment, dating violence, stalking, invasion of privacy, etc. that are not physical acts of sexual violence but are also prohibited by law and University policy.

Sexual violence may be committed by:

  • Physical force, violence, or threats.
  • Coercion or intimidation.
  • Ignoring the objections of another person.
  • Causing another person’s intoxication or impairment with alcohol or drugs.
  • Taking advantage of another person’s intoxication, incapacitation, unconsciousness, state of intimidation, helplessness, or other inability to consent.


Examples of sexual violence include, but are not limited to:

  • The unwanted touching or attempted touching of a person’s breast/chest, buttocks, inner thighs, or genitalia.
  • Forced penetration of another person’s oral, anal or genital opening with a body part or any object.
  • Unwanted kissing.
  • Refusing to use a condom or restricting someone’s access to birth control.
  • Keeping someone from protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Sexual contact with someone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to give informed consent.
  • Threatening someone into unwanted sexual activity.
  • Repeatedly pressuring someone to have sex or perform sexual acts.


  • Consent is an affirmative decision to engage in mutually acceptable sexual activity, and is given by clear words or actions.
  • Consent is an informed decision made freely and actively by all parties.
  • Consent may not be inferred from silence, passivity, or lack of resistance alone.
  • Consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to other forms of sexual activity and the existence of a current or previous dating, marital, and/or sexual relationship is not sufficient to constitute consent to additional sexual activity.
  • Consent cannot be obtained from someone who is asleep, unconscious, or otherwise mentally or physically incapacitated, whether due to alcohol, drugs, or some other condition.
  • Consent cannot be obtained by threat, coercion, intimidation, isolation, confinement, or force. Agreement given under such conditions does not constitute consent.

A student’s own use of alcohol and/or drugs does not automatically eliminate their responsibility to obtain consent. During an investigation related to sexual violence, it is likely that the context and circumstances will be taken into account in order to determine whether consent was provided.

What to do

  • Our primary goal is to empower those who experience sexual assault to make the decisions that are best for them. Below is a brief outline of the recommended steps for Penn students to take immediately after experiencing sexual violence. If possible, find a safe place away from the perpetrator or from any other potential danger.

    1. Contact the Special Services Unit in the Division of Public Safety by calling Penn Police at 215.898.6600. The Penn Police will connect victims with an advocate from Special Services who can talk about all of the reporting options, and can accompany students through the process of receiving a medical exam.
    2. If necessary, seek medical attention as soon as possible. The Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center (PSARC) provides forensic rape examinations to victims of sexual assault. Students who wish to pursue legal action or who may want to pursue legal action in the future, are encouraged to receive this examination. PSARC can also check for internal injuries, provide medication for sexually transmitted infections, and discuss options for HIV and pregnancy prevention. Students can be transported there by Special Services.
    3. Seek additional support. Special Services will continue to provide support and will inform students of all the resources available including the Penn Women’s Center and Counseling & Psychological Services.


Visit the resources page to find information about who to contact for support and reporting options.