What is Sexual Assault?

American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations experience sexual assault and sexual violence at an alarmingly high rate. According to relevant studies and statistics, an AI/AN woman is twice as likely to be a victim of sexual assault as compared to a woman of any other ethnicity.

To understand this crisis in Indian Country, one must first understand the crime of sexual assault. Sexual assault is also is known as any "non-consensual sexual contact." What constitutes "non-consensual sexual contact" depends upon the relevant laws in each jurisdiction.

What do the terms "Consensual" and "Consent" mean?

The definition of consensual means relating to or involving consent or consensus. Consent means that there is permission for something to happen or an agreement to do something. Consent requires that a person possess the legal capacity to form consent to sexual activity that is about to take place. It is essential to recognize that a person who is intoxicated or who has severe cognitive disabilities (developmentally disabled, an elder with dementia, etc.) may not have the legal capacity to consent to the sexual contact. In many jurisdictions, minors do not have the legal capacity to consent to sexual contact.

Can a person change their mind about consent?

Yes. A person may withdraw their consent from sexual contact at any time. Any continued, non-consensual sexual contact is considered sexual assault.

What constitutes sexual assault?

Sexual assault can happen using force, by the threat of force, by coercion, or by fraud (e.g.,posing as a medical doctor). A victim is not required to fight or resist his or her attacker for it to be considered sexual assault. Most jurisdictions can secure a sexual assault conviction if there is sufficient evidence that sexual contact occurred and that the contact was non-consensual.

A common misconception concerning sexual assault is that there must be proof of penile-vaginal penetration. Penetration by a penis is not the only form of sexual assault. Perpetrators of sexual assault often use foreign objects in the commission of this crime too. These foreign objects commonly include firearms, tools, and bottles.

Many jurisdictions criminalize any non-consensual sexual contact, including one or more of the following types of conduct:
    • Contact, touching, or penetration of a victim's vulva or vagina by a penis, finger, mouth, or foreign object.
    • Contact, touching, or penetration of a victim's anus by a penis, finger, mouth, or foreign object.
    • Oral contact with a victim's vulva, vagina, or anus.
    • Contact or touching of a victim's breast by a finger, hand, mouth, or foreign object.

Sexual Assault Documents

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*NICCSA is a project of the Southwest Center for Law and Policy ( This project is supported by Grant No. 2017-SA-AX-K001, awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.