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Terminology and Definitions

What is sexual assault? What’s the difference between sexual assault and rape?

Sexual assault is non-consensual sexual contact or penetration by physical force, by threat of bodily harm or when the victim is incapable of giving consent by virtue of mental illness, mental disability, intoxication or being under the age of consent. The term is often used as an umbrella legal term to describe a range of unwanted sexual offenses, including rape.

“Rape” is not a legal term in New Hampshire — the crime is classified as “Sexual Assault” under RSA 632-A. New Hampshire law defines three categories of sexual assault and related offenses. In all cases, it is a crime to have sexual contact with a person “when the actor, without prior knowledge or consent of the victim, administers or has knowledge of another person administering to the victim any intoxicating substance which mentally incapacitates the victim or when at the time of the assault the victim indicates by speech or conduct that consent is not freely given to performance of the sexual act.”

Sexual assault can be committed by any person against any other person, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, or past or current relationship status.

What is rape culture?

Rape culture is a concept that links sexual violence to the culture of a society, in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse and tolerate sexual violence as an inevitable fact of life.

Examples of the way that rape culture manifests include:

  • Victim blaming (e.g., “She was dancing with him all night, what did she expect?”)
  • Trivializing sexual violence (e.g., “They were both drunk, I’m sure that he didn’t mean to hurt her.”)
  • Normalization / tolerance of sexual harassment
  • Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s apparel, motives, and sexual history
  • Assuming that only promiscuous women are victims of rape
  • Assuming that men are not sexually assaulted, and that, if they are, it’s because they’re weak; rape culture assumes that men are always willing sexual participants

What is consent?

From the Dartmouth Student Handbook’s Sexual Misconduct Policy:

Intimate sexual activity requires consent. In adjudicating alleged violations of the Sexual Misconduct Standard, the Committee on Standards will be informed by its judgment as to whether a reasonable person should have known that the reporting student did not consent or was unable to give consent because of his or her incapacitation. As stated in the policy above, an individual may be unable to give consent “because of physical or mental incapacitation by reason of drug or alcohol consumption, sleep, or unconsciousness.”

Consent to sexual activity may be communicated in a variety of ways, both verbal and non-verbal. Verbal communication prior to engaging in sexual activity certainly can help to clarify for the individuals involved whether or not there is consent. One should presume that there is no consent in the absence of a clear positive indication of consent.

Likewise, non-consent or lack of consent may also be communicated in a variety of ways both verbal and nonverbal. A verbal “no” (or its verbal or non-verbal equivalent) indicates an unwillingness to participate in sexual activity. Non-consent can also be communicated in a variety of other ways, depending on the circumstances or context. Even in the absence of a verbal “no,” physical resistance is not necessary to communicate a lack of consent.

What is affirmative consent?

The notion of “avoiding a no” is an upsettingly common one. The emphasis of consent is often on the idea of “no,” and we are taught that when a partner says “stop,” we stop. Despite its simplicity and apparent reasonableness, the “no means no” standard has failed to establish itself as the common sense position and legal standard that it appears to be:

  • Many people believe that a verbal rejection of sexual advances does not create a case of rape against someone who engages in sex with the individual, per se
  • Court decisions often acquit perpetrators of rape even when there is no doubt that the victim has indeed said no to sexual intercourse

Affirmative consent simply advocates for affirmative, rather than passive, agreement to sexual activity. It sets the requirement of clear communication up front and puts the onus on the individual pursuing sex to receive clear communication that their advances are desired. This is not intended to punish individuals caught in situations that seem ambiguous, but rather to prevent these situations from appearing ambiguous to begin with. Affirmative consent also rejects the “gatekeeper model” of sexual consent, in which one partner, usually a woman, rejects sex repeatedly before finally “giving in,” thereby normalizing sex after one partner repeatedly rejects the advances.

Affirmative consent is not a magic bullet to prevent sexual assault, and it will not stop determined perpetrators from committing rape, but it does tear down the curtain of excuses and justifications behind which perpetrators often hide.

What is stalking?

There are many different legal and clinical definitions of stalking. According to RSA 633:3, it is against the law for an individual to:

  • Purposely, knowingly, or recklessly engage in a course of conduct targeted at a specific person which would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her personal safety or the safety of a member of that person’s immediate family, and that person is placed in fear.
  • Purposely or knowingly engage in a course of conduct that the actor knows will place an individual and/or that person’s immediate family member in fear for personal safety.
  • Commit a single act of conduct that both violates the provisions of a protection order, divorce decree, or bail conditions, that prohibits contact with the individual and is an act of conduct, as defined below. The person must have been served or given notice of the protective order filed against him/her.
  • Course of conduct refers to 2 or more acts that occur over a period of time, however short, that show evidence of a pattern of behavior. This includes any of the following acts against a person or her/his immediate family member.

General Questions

Who can be sexually assaulted?

Anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of sexual violence, regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, gender presentation, appearance, location, education, profession, or socioeconomic background. However, victims of rape are predominantly female, and offenders are almost always heterosexual males.

Can men be sexually assaulted?

Research indicates that 1 in 33 men will be victims of rape or attempted rape during their lifetimes. Societal stereotypes of male sexual assault focus primarily on prison rape or on rape in the context of gay subculture. These myths, along with social conditioning of males, may prevent male survivors from reporting and/or seeking support.

Is there any group that is particularly vulnerable to sexual assault?

The first semester of college is the most dangerous for women, with increased incidence of rape and sexual assault on U.S. college campuses (Kimble 2008).

First and second year women appear to be at greater risk of sexual assault than upperclassmen: a recent study employing a convenience sample of university women found that 84% of the women who reported sexually coercive experiences experienced the incident during their first four semesters on campus (Gross 2006).

What are the common effects of sexual assault on victims?

Sexual assault impacts every victim differently; however, victimization is highly correlated with depression, relationship problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, substance abuse (binge drinking in particular), suicide, and other psychological and emotional problems. One study indicated that rape victims are 13 times more likely than the general population to commit suicide (NCVC 1992).

The impact of a sexual assault on the victim often depends upon the level of support and assistance s/he receives in the aftermath of the crime. Dartmouth women and men routinely drop courses and after-class activities, change majors, alter social routines, modify living situations and even leave the College to avoid coming into contact with their assailants. Recent research suggests that the aftereffects of a sexual assault that occurs within a trusted institution, such as a college campus or military base, are compounded by a profound feeling of betrayal by a trusted institution.

Who commits sexual assault?

Estimates of the percentage of men who acknowledge committing rape and attempted rape have come from studies that ask questions about sexually violent behavior without labeling such behavior as “rape” or “assault” and range from 4.8% to 14.9% (Rapaport & Burkhart 1984, Koss et al. 1985, Mosher & Anderson 1986, Koss et al. 1987, Greendlinger & Byrne 1987, Kosson et al. 1997, Lisak & Roth 1988, Rubenzahl & Corcoran 1998, Ouimette & Riggs 1998, Merrill et al. 1998, Collings 1999, Weiss & Zverina 1999, Spitzberg 1999, Lisak & Miller 2002).

The vast majority of rapists are never prosecuted for their crimes: approximately 85% of rape victims do not report their victimization to criminal justice authorities and, of the 15% who do report, it is estimated that approximately 10% result in the filing of charges, and 40% of those cases result in some sort of conviction. This means that studies of incarcerated rapists cannot be generalized to the vast majority of “undetected” rapists who are never reported or prosecuted.

These undetected rapists:

  • are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries
  • plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically
  • use “instrumental” not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse control and use only as much violence as is needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission
  • use psychological weapons – power, control, manipulation, and threats – backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns
  • use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious

Additionally, the majority of undetected rapists are serial perpetrators who also commit other forms of interpersonal violence. In a study of 120 undetected rapists in the Boston area, 63% were serial rapists and had assaulted, on average, 14 victims each (Lisak & Miller 2002).

Aren’t there are lots of gray areas around what gets labeled sexual assault?

There are no “gray areas.” New Hampshire statutes are very clear about what constitutes criminal sexual behavior.

Also, these assaults are not “accidents” nor caused by “circumstances” but in fact are premeditated. Perpetrators prowl for victims where alcohol is being consumed and target naïve populations. 60%-70% of rapists on college campuses are serial offenders and they are responsible for 91% of the attacks. 85% of on-campus offenses are “acquaintance” or “non-stranger” assaults.

According to research (Lisak & Miller 2002), the majority of adult sex offenders are serial rapists, with repeat predators accounting for 9 out of every 10 rapes. On average, they will commit approximately 6 rapes while in college. In addition, adult sex offenders:

  • Typically target individuals known to them, whether it is through a brief encounter or a close relationship
  • Commit other types of interpersonal crimes including stalking, domestic violence, child abuse, and child sexual abuse
  • Use instrumental rather than gratuitous or more apparent forms of violence

What’s wrong with suggesting that women take precautions to prevent being raped?

In short, because it places the onus of rape prevention on victims (and, as a corollary, suggests that victims are to blame if they are raped because of something that they did or did not do), rather than on the perpetrators of sexual violence.

The longer answer is that taking precautions simply is not effective at preventing assault. Many of the “precautions” that women are instructed to take are founded on the myth that most rapists are strangers. Suggestions such as “don’t go out alone at night,” “don’t wear provocative clothing,” “don’t take shortcuts,” “always lock your door,” and “don’t leave your drink anywhere” elide the fact that the vast majority of rapists are people that their victims know and trust. Most women who report being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked were victimized by a current or former intimate parter, a date or a family member (National Institute of Justice 2000). Rape rarely happens “in a bad neighborhood at two in the morning.” Rape happens in a woman’s dorm room, committed by someone she knows reasonably, if not very, well. The warnings and rules that women are supposed to follow to avoid assault do not keep us safe; they keep us scared. They also mean that if we are assaulted, we are likely to blame and second guess ourselves because we are constantly told that our behavior is the only way to avoid rape.

Sexual Assault at Dartmouth

What are the chances of a student being sexually assaulted at Dartmouth?

According to the Campus Sexual Assault Study conducted by the National Institute of Justice, 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college. 85% of victims report being assaulted by someone they knew, usually a fellow student (Fisher 2000).

The first semester of college is the most dangerous for women, with increased incidence of rape and sexual assault on U.S. college campuses (Kimble 2008). First and second year women appear to be at greater risk of sexual assault than upperclassmen: a recent study employing a convenience sample of university women found that 84% of the women who reported sexually coercive experiences experienced the incident during their first four semesters on campus (Gross 2006).

How many sexual assaults occur at Dartmouth annually?

According to Dartmouth’s Sexual Assault Awareness Program and based on FBI and Department of Education data, we can conservatively estimate that 125 Dartmouth women will be the victims of sexual assault or an attempted assault in the 2012-2013 academic year. Roughly 95% of these crimes will go unreported.

3% of college men report surviving rape or attempted rape as a child or an adult, but there is considerably less research on sexual violence against men and rape against men is even more under-reported than rape against women, so statistics on male survivors are less certain.

How many of these assaults will be adjudicated by Dartmouth's Committee on Standards (COS), the College’s disciplinary committee?

Between the start of summer term 2000 and the end of spring term 2010 (ten academic years), there were 31 adjudicated cases of sexual abuse. There were an estimated 1,250 assaults or attempted assaults on campus during this same period. That is an estimated adjudication rate of 2.5%.

Of these 31 cases, eleven (35%) resulted in a finding of “not responsible” for the alleged perpetrator, three of which were deemed so because of “insufficient evidence.” Four students resigned from the College prior to a hearing.

The cases where students were found responsible are as follows: in two cases, students were permanently separated from the College for sexual abuse that included repeated instances of sexual abuse in the same evening, multiple offenses, or a student’s disregard for obvious signs that the intercourse or contact was not consensual; eleven cases resulted in suspension from one to eight terms for non-consensual penetration in a case in which a reasonable person would have understood that he/she did not have consent for the act, and in cases that a reasonable person would have known that the victim was incapacitated from drugs or alcohol (a class “A” felony in New Hampshire punishable by up to 15 years in prison). Lesser terms of suspension were imposed when the incident involved touching intimate parts of another student (a class “B” felony punishable by up to 7 years in prison or a Class “A” misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison.)

In three cases students were placed on probation for the remainder of their time at Dartmouth. In one case a student was found to have engaged in harassing behavior with a significant sexual element. In another case a student engaged in intimate sexual touching that did not include explicit consent but did include some consensual behavior. The last case involved a student who committed an inappropriate prank that involved touching the genitals of a former sexual partner.

What are the rights of accused students at Dartmouth?

Federal statutes regarding privacy and due process fully protect students accused of sexual assault and are referred to by the Committee on Standards. The College uses the same protocols as they use to deal with students accused of racial and other forms of harassment and discrimination. Currently, potential punishments range from probation to separation from the College. For more information about COS proceedings, see the Standards of Conduct in the Dartmouth student handbook.

Sexual Assault Reporting

Why are so few sexual assaults reported to authorities?

The violence associated with rape leads many to believe that it should always be reported to the proper authorities; however, fewer than 5% of college women who are victims of rape or attempted rape report it to police (Fisher 2000). There are a number of reasons why this is the case:

  • Embarrassment and shame:
  • Not recognizing what happened as rape:
  • Fear of reprisal: In one study, over 40% of rape victims who did not report the incident said they did not do so because they feared reprisal from the assailant or others (Benson, Charton & Goodhart 1992).
  • Fear of social isolation:

    Historically, rape victims are routinely discounted, disbelieved and shunned. They are also routinely subjected to vicious personal attacks and intense pressure from peers to not report. Victims may believe they are somehow responsible for the attack and are often embarrassed, frightened and/or ashamed. Victims might also believe that reporting will negatively affect their future careers. Reporting may lead to having to testify publicly about intimate personal behavior.

    Women are more likely to report sexual assault if their assailant is a stranger than if the assailant is an acquaintance or fellow student, and they are more likely to report completed rape than attempted rape. Only 27% of the women whose sexual assaults met the legal definition of rape thought of themselves as rape victims.

    Lastly, anecdotal evidence points to distrust of the College’s adjudication system. The perception on campus is that those found guilty of academic violations face more consequences than those found guilty of sexual assault, and it’s well known how emotionally difficult the process is for victims with the added insult of a poor adjudication rate. At the Ivies and other prestigious colleges where many perpetrators are renowned athletes, have unlimited financial and legal resources, intimidating friends, parents and family members, powerful connections and ties to the institution’s upper level administration, and a horrific judicial track recording for finding perpetrators responsible at their college, the likelihood of a victim coming forward and using the judicial/legal system in an acquaintance assault is extremely rare.