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Learn What is Abuse, Assault, Stalking, & Harassment

These terms can be defined and used differently depending on the context. Here are some of the ways that the PATH to Care Center describes various forms of harm. Even if an experience does not exactly match these descriptions, someone can still be experiencing harm. Additional resources with definitions, such as the UCOP SVSH Policy are included below. 

If you have experienced any of these, please consider your immediate safety. It may help to talk to a confidential PATH to Care advocate, friend, family member, or other person who can provide support. 

Consent Dating/Intimate Partner Violence Sexual Assault Sexual Harassment Stalking Sexual Exploitation & Invasion of Sexual Privacy Additional Definitions



Consent is an integral part of safe, healthy relationships and sexuality. It is an ongoing agreement between people about what they want to experience.

What Consent Can Look Like:

  • Explicitly asking and communicating with your sexual partner(s) if they are okay with initiating or progressing any sexual activity “Are you comfortable with…?”
  • Communicating beforehand with your sexual partner(s) what you need, desire, and are comfortable doing “I would enjoy…”
  • Periodically checking in with a partner(s) “Is this still okay?”
  • Pausing if there is no longer enthusiasm and engagement from your partner(s) “I noticed you went still.”
  • Letting your partner(s) know you respect their changing needs “We can stop any time.”

What Is Not Consent: 

  • Silence, doubt, or uncertainty from a partner(s)
  • Lack of verbal or physical resistance
  • Mental and physical incapacitation due to the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Being uninformed about the nature of the activity, risks, and potential consequences – including due to age or ability
  • Consent to engage in some types of activity does not mean a desire for all sexual behaviors
  • Previous consent does not constitute ongoing or future consent
  • Pressuring (even subtly by having more power or privilege), forcing, or coercing someone to consent
  • Ignoring or not acknowledging “No”

Nobody is obligated to give consent, even if they are in a long-term, committed relationship. 


Dating/Intimate Partner Violence

Partner abuse is a recurring, chronic, deliberate pattern of aggressive and/or manipulative behaviors done by one partner (or ex) to gain power and maintain control over another/others in a relationship. 

Partners may be married, dating, seeing each other, hooking up, or broken up. Relationships may also include those that are polyamorous or consensually non-monogamous, or ones with dynamics such as BDSM or kink.

Abusive relationships may not start out hurtful. Control or aggression may emerge over time, often after a great deal of emotional investment and commitment. Some abusive relationships may have no physical violence but use manipulative behaviors such as those described in the Power and Control Wheel below.


Tactics of power and control include economic abuse, coercion and threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, denying and blaming, using children and pets, and using privilege.

Relationships can exist on a spectrum varying from healthy, to unhealthy, to abusive.

Healthy relationships generally are:

  • Supportive
  • Trusting
  • Respectful during conflict
  • Communicative
  • Mutually negotiated
  • Loving/caring
  • Physically and emotionally safe

Unhealthy or abusive relationships may include: 

  • Poor communication
  • Lack of trust
  • Disrespect
  • Poor conflict skills
  • Lack of mutual support 
  • Over-dependence that prevents individual pursuits

Though abusive relationships may have similar elements to unhealthy ones, the important difference is the pattern of behaviors to exert power and maintain control that denies the partner(s) physical/emotional wellbeing. 


Sexual Assault

Sexual assault can include any and all forms of nonconsensual sexual contact. It can happen in any kind of relationship (partners, friends, acquaintances, family, strangers). 

Sexual assault may include:

  • Rape/attempted rape
  • Forced sexual acts
  • Sexual coercion/exploitation
  • Incest, child sexual abuse
  • Sexual touching or physical contact (over or under clothing)
  • Deliberately exposing someone to a sexually transmitted infection without their knowledge
  • “Stealthing” – the nonconsensual removal of safer sex barriers (condoms, dental damns, gloves) during otherwise consensual sexual activity

If consent is absent, ignored, or forced, there has been a violation of boundaries and there may have been a sexual assault.


Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can be verbal or physical, and may include the following: 

  • Unwanted sexually explicit texts, phone calls, emails, or photos
  • Unwanted sexual or romantic advances, or physical contact
  • Street harassment – “catcalling”
  • Pressuring someone to engage in sexual activity with someone else
  • Inappropriate, offensive, or explicit conversations and jokes regarding sexual acts
  • Comments, jokes, gestures, imagery, or behaviors that demean or intimidate based on:
    • Gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sex- or gender-stereotyping
  • Hostile Environment: creating an unwelcome, intimidating, or offensive work/academic setting
    • that interferes with ability to participate or benefit from university programs or activities
  • Quid Pro Quo: using sexual favors to set work or academic conditions 
    • Implying or explicitly promising, offering, or withholding a job, pay raise, opportunities at work, promotion, role in an organization, grades, recommendation letter, academic mentorship or opportunities, etc.

Sexual harassment can have serious impacts on a person’s health and well-being. 



Stalking is a pattern of unwanted, repeated direct or indirect contact by an individual. Typically the behavior continues even after requests to stop, or new behavior begins.

Stalking may include

  • Repeatedly following or waiting for someone in a location without cause
  • Unwanted interaction on social media, calls, texts, emails, or pictures sent to work or home accounts
  • Repeated letters or “gifts” given directly, or left to find
  • Obtaining information through third parties (friends, family, coworkers, etc.)
  • Seeking personal information that was not directly disclosed
  • Damaging or taking personal property, especially intimate or highly secured items

Stalking includes technology-based abuse or “cyber-stalking”:

  • Posting someone’s personal information online (doxing), including inciting others to harass 
  • Harassment or threats via the internet
  • Tracking/monitoring through use of GPS or software systems (via apps, car, cell phone, cameras, malicious computer programs, spyware, and/or online databases)


Sexual Exploitation & Invasion of Sexual Privacy

Sexual exploitation is actual or attempted non-consensual abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust for the purpose of sexual gratification, financial gain, personal benefit, retaliation, or any other non-legitimate purpose.

Sexual exploitation can include:

  • Watching or taping someone undress, use the bathroom, or engage in sexual activity without their consent
  • Posting or sharing personal or private images of someone without permission (nonconsensual image sharing or “revenge porn”)
  • Using depictions of nudity or sexual activity to extort something of value from a person
  • Exposing someone’s genitals or showing one’s own genitals to others, without consent
  • Getting someone drunk or high to reduce their resistance to sexual activity
  • Sex trafficking: inducing, forcing, coercing or defrauding someone to engage in commercial sex acts


Additional Definitions

The University of California, State of California, and United States federal law have other specific definitions for each of these forms of harm. The selected links below are not exhaustive.

University of California – Policy Definitions of Prohibited Conduct 

Selected State & Federal Laws