Get educated on terms & definitions

The following are terms and definitions relevant to the topics discussed on this site.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines consent as “to agree to do or allow something: to give permission for something to happen.” With regard to sexual activity, in order to ensure that both parties are willing participants, it is a good practice to obtain explicit rather than implied consent. Silence does not imply consent, and someone being naked does not communicate consent. Consenting to one behavior does not mean that consent is given at other points in time for that same behavior, and does not mean that consent is given for other sexual behaviors. It only means that consent is given for that behavior at that point in time. Some examples: making out does not automatically mean a person is interested in having sex, having consensual sex one time does not mean that person will always be interested in sex in the future. Consent may be revoked at any time; once a person says “no”, “stop,” or seems uncomfortable as communicated verbally or with body language, sexual activity should stop. Drugs and alcohol can impact and impair one’s ability to give consent. The age at which a person can give sexual permission (age of consent) vary by state.


Minimizing or ignoring the abuse enables the cycle to continue and escalate overtime. Abusers often isolate their victims keeping the cycle hidden and enabling the cycle to go unseen or others to ignore it completely.

Domestic Violence

“A pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone. Domestic and intimate partner violence can be classified as physical, sexual, emotional, economic/financial, and psychological abuse.”

Economic Abuse

Trying to make an individual financially dependent on the abuser by limiting access to financial resources. This includes (but is not limited to) acts such as withholding access to money, forbidding attendance at school or employment, or applying for credit cards in the victim’s name without permission and tying the victim to debt incurred by the abuser.


Actual abuse (see definitions above): physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, financial. This phase becomes more dangerous with time.


Grooming is used to describe the process by which adult sexual offenders obtain the trust of children and families and gradually find ways to get a victim alone and push boundaries towards sexual assault and rape. Grooming can also be used on adults too. This can be a gradual pushing of boundaries in an intimate context. Examples of this include pressuring someone to take off his/her clothes then touching that person in places without consent and pressuring him/her to do sexual things that (s)he is not comfortable with, or repeatedly asking to engage in sexual acts after a person has denied consent. Grooming often occurs over a period of time, rather than all in one instance. The logic behind grooming is to lower a potential victim’s defenses by first gain trust and then push someone’s boundaries in subtle and gradual ways. This process reduces the victim’s ability to recognize that his/her boundaries are not being respected, or that the perpetrator is doing something inappropriate.

Honeymoon Phase

Follows the Explosion to draw victim back into the relationship. Abuser apologizes and makes promises. “Hearts and flowers” Puts on a show as the perfect partner. This phase gets shorter and may disappear completely over time.

Institutional Betrayal

Institutional Betrayal was coined by researcher Jennifer Freyd to describe “wrongdoings perpetrated by an institution upon individuals dependent on that institution, including failure to prevent or respond supportively to wrongdoings by individuals (e.g. sexual assault) committed within the context of the institution.” The failure of many colleges and judicial courts to respond to sexual assault accusations in ways that protect and support the victim is a form of institutional betrayal and can both re-traumatize and disillusion the victim.

Intimate Partner/Relationship Violence

“Physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.”

Domestic and intimate partner violence can be classified as physical, sexual, emotional, economic/financial, and psychological abuse. Stalking is also a form of intimate partner violence, and includes harassing or threatening a person via repeated phone calls or text messages, showing up to the victim’s home or place of employment, vandalizing the victim’ property, and sending written messages (i.e. letters or emails) or objects to the victim.

Physical violence

The intentional use of physical force that either causes or could potentially cause death, injury, harm, or disability. Examples of physical violence include scratching, grabbing, pinching, pushing, throwing, biting, shaking, pulling hair, choking, slapping, punching, kicking, burning, using a weapon, using restraints, or using one's strength, body, or size against another person. Physical violence also includes denying a partner access to medical care or forcing a partner to use drugs or alcohol.

Primary/Secondary/Tertiary Prevention:

Primary prevention:

Intervening to prevent a sexual assault or rape from happening in the first place.


Secondary prevention:

Intervening immediately after a sexual assault has occurred with the goal of protecting the victim and preventing the problem from worsening (i.e. separating the victim from the perpetrator, containing/arresting perpetrator).


Tertiary prevention:

Long-term intervention once a person has a disease or a problem has occurred in hopes of containing the problem or reducing symptoms (i.e. long-term counseling for survivors, rehabilitation for perpetrators).

Psychological/emotional violence

Acts, threats of acts, or coercive tactics that cause trauma. This includes (but is not limited to) humiliating the victim, controlling what the victim can/cannot do, withholding information, deliberately doing something to embarrass or disempower the victim, isolating the victim from friends and family, and denying the victim access to other basic resources. Prior physical or sexual violence or prior threat of physical or sexual violence are forms of psychological or emotional violence, as the fear caused by threat of trauma or real trauma can be psychologically damaging.


As of January 1, 2013, the FBI defines rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” Rape is often depicted as a violation that occurs by a stranger, but the majority of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. Rapists often use tactics other than physical assault. Verbal threats and intimidation, emotional blackmail, grooming (see above) and drugs/alcohol are instruments used by rapists.

Date/Acquaintance Rape

Rape (using the definition above) where the perpetrator is known to the victim. This can include peers in college, romantic partner, a friend or friend-of-a-friend, team mate, coworker, or someone a person has simply met before. This term is used in situations where the perpetrator and victim knew each other before the assault, or may have been on a date or in an intimate situation of some sort, but where the victim did not consent to sexual intercourse with the perpetrator. The term ‘date rape’ is associated in mainstream media with the use of “date rape” drugs such as GHB that temporarily paralyze the victim or make the victim lose consciousness for a period of time. However, many rapes occur without the use of drugs, and a majority of rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.

Sexual Assault

The US Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.” Forced sexual intercourse is referred to as rape; sexual assault does include rape.

Sexual Violence

1) Use of physical force or coercion (see grooming and date rape) to compel a person to engage in an attempted or completed sexual act against his or her will; 2) attempted or completed sex act involving a person who is unable to understand the nature or condition of the act, to decline participation, or to communicate unwillingness to engage in the sexual act, e.g., because of illness, disability, or the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or because of intimidation or pressure; and 3) abusive sexual contact. Sexual violence includes marital rape, unwanted touching or attacks upon sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred, or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner.

Tension Building Phase

“Minor incidents of physical/emotional abuse. Victim feels growing tension. Victim tries to control situation to avoid violence. “Walking on eggshells” Victim cannot control abuser.” This is usually the longest phase.

The Cycle of Violence

“Depicts a pattern often experienced in abusive relationships. The three phases repeat over and over. Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse in an intimate relationship that escalates over time.”

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