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Sexual and Relationship Violence

What is Sexual and Relationship Violence?

Sexual violence occurs when a person experiences ANY sexual act without giving consent. Sexual violence includes any type of unwanted sexual contact. Some examples of sexual violence are:

  • Rape
  • Sexual acts that occur with a person too intoxicated to provide consent
  • Unwanted fondling or touching
  • Acquaintance or date rape (unwanted sex with a person you know)
  • Attempted rape
  • Stalking
  • Forcing someone to perform sexual acts
  • Sexual harassment

Consent is an agreement between people who are engaging in sexual activity. Consent can, but does not have to be, a verbal agreement (i.e. saying “yes” or “no”). Consent should happen every time you engage in sexual activity. Giving consent one time does NOT give consent for all future sexual activity. You can withdraw consent at any time if you no longer want to participate.

Consent is NOT:

  • Pressuring someone into sexual activity
  • Assuming any type of clothing is a sexual invitation
  • Refusing to accept “no” as an answer
  • Engaging in sexual activity with someone incapacitated or too intoxicated to consent
  • Freezing or being unable to fight back
  • Assuming you currently have consent because you have previously engaged in sexual activity in with this person
  • Assuming you have consent for a certain sexual act because you had consent for a different sexual act
  • Being under the legal age of consent (as defined by the state you are in)

Sexual violence occurs within all communities and cultures, but some groups experience higher rates of sexual violence and less access to care. Specifically, marginalized groups—including women of color, sexual minorities, immigrants, and transgender individuals—may be more vulnerable to experiencing sexual violence and face added barriers to receiving support and fair treatment (such as from law enforcement, medical/mental health providers, community shelters, or the justice system) after experiencing sexual violence.

Relationship violence, which often involves one partner’s attempts to assert power and control over another partner, can include:

  • Intimidation
  • Physical abuse or assault
  • Sexual assault (unwanted sexual contact is considered sexual violence even when it occurs in a monogamous sexual relationship)
  • Emotional abuse
  • Psychological abuse or overly controlling behavior

Experiencing sexual or relationship violence is never your fault.

Misconceptions about Sexual and Relationship Violence*

*Adapted from Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence

Myth: Alcohol and other substances are the cause of sexual assault
Fact: Alcohol and other drugs are not a cause of rape or sexual assault. Sometimes perpetrators use alcohol or drugs to control their victim. Being intoxicated or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol is NOT an invitation for assault or rape.

Myth: Women often falsely accuse men of sexual assault or rape.
Fact: FBI statistics indicate that only 2% of reported rapes are false.

Myth: Sexual assault is provoked by the survivor’s actions, behaviors, or manner of dress.
Fact: Sexual assault or rape is NEVER the survivor’s fault.  No one “asks” for or causes an assailant or perpetrator to assault them.

Myth: Men cannot be sexually assaulted.
Fact: Approximately 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused or assaulted. And sexual assault of men is thought to be underreported due to the stigma of reporting.

Myth: If someone is aroused when they are assaulted, it is not really sexual assault.
Fact: Orgasm and other forms of sexual arousal are natural, biological reactions outside of a person’s control. Sexual arousal does NOT constitute consent and does not mean that the survivor enjoyed or wanted the assault.

Myth: Sexual assault is usually perpetrated by a stranger in a dark alley or isolated area.
Fact:  A sexual assault can happen anywhere, at any time. The majority of assaults occur in places that are thought to be safe, such as homes, and most sexual assault survivors report knowing the perpetrator before the assault occurs.

Myth: Sexual assault survivors should always report the assault to the authorities.
Fact: There are many reasons why a survivor may choose not to report, including being worried about not being believed, fear of retaliation from the perpetrator, fear of being blamed, embarrassment, shame, distrust of the law, desire to protect the perpetrator, and/or pressure from others.

Myth: You cannot be assaulted while you are in a relationship.
Fact: Sexual violence can indeed occur within relationships. Being in a monogamous sexual relationship does not negate the need for consent.

Common Reactions to Sexual and Relationship Violence

Sexual or relationship violence can be a traumatizing experience that may cause some reactions for days, months, or even years after the trauma. Sometimes people have a delayed response to the experience, while other might react right away. Everyone reacts differently to trauma. Below are some of the common patterns and reactions that many survivors may experience.

Physiological Emotional Behavioral
Changes in eating
Sleep disturbance
Muscle tension
Difficulty focusing
Easily startled
Memory disturbance
Stomach aches
Body disconnection
Feeling out of control
Guilt and shame
Depression, sadness
Feeling embarrassed
Feeling detached or apathetic
Feelings of worthlessness
Being around others all the time for fear of being alone
Avoiding leaving home or going to places with crowds
Difficulty with physical or emotional intimacy
Social withdrawal
Letting go of activities you used to enjoy
Avoiding things that remind you of the trauma
Loss of trust in yourself, in others
Lack of safety in relationships
Using substances (alcohol, food, drugs) to cope
Flashbacks of the event
Questioning why this happened
Telling yourself that you are bad, damaged, or dirty
Ruminating on what you could have done differently
Worry about what others will think
Avoiding thinking or talking about the trauma

If you have just been sexually assaulted, get to a safe place and consider your next step. You will likely be making some decisions about what to do next, including who to tell, whether to seek medical and/or psychological care, and whether to take any disciplinary or legal action. There are many services and resources on and off campus available to survivors of sexual assault, including recent survivors and those who have been coping with a past assault for a while. If you are currently in danger and cannot get to a safe place, call 9-1-1.

Coping Strategies for Survivors of Sexual or Relationship Violence

  • Get support. Find a therapist, relative, friend, grief support group, or chaplain to get support from. Sexual violence is a large burden to bear and talking with someone you trust can help.
  • Allow yourself to feel. What you have experienced is real. Let yourself feel what you are feeling, and validate your experiences.
  • Challenge your self-blame. Responsibility should only be placed on the perpetrator. It is very common for survivors to blame themselves for the assault, but you are never to blame for what happened.
  • Consider your options. There are many different types of options when it comes to reporting sexual violence and seeking medical care. It may help to talk with a confidential advocate who knows all of the different options so that you can make an informed decision.
  • Talk to a professional. Working with a therapist who has experience treating sexual violence survivors is a helpful way to begin the recovery process
  • Engage in Self-Care: Rely on the strategies that you know work for you to help you self-soothe, relax, and stay centered. Self-care can include any healthy activities that help nourish your mind, body, and spirit. Examples of Self-Care:
    • Engaging in physical activity and maintaining a balanced, regular diet
    • Utilizing sleep hygiene techniques to get a regular sleep schedule
    • Spending time with people you enjoy and who support you
    • Engaging in breathing exercises to slow your breathing and cope with anxiety
      • TRY THIS: Breathe in from your diaphragm for 4 counts, holding your breath for 2 counts, and exhaling for 4 counts
    • Yoga or meditative practices
    • Grounding exercises to help you return to the present moment when feeling overwhelmed by past experiences
      • TRY THIS: Using your five senses, try to name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste
    • Empowering yourself by participating in activities that make you feel good
    • Write or say aloud positive self-affirmations on a regular basis
    • Engaging in activism against sexual violence, such as participating in UMD’s annual Take Back the Night event
    • Doing pleasant activities that you enjoy, such as dancing, painting, listening to music, walking, playing with pets, cooking, etc. Make a list of these activities so you have them ready whenever you have some free time
    • Journaling to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings

Supporting a Survivor of Sexual or Relationship Violence

  • Validation: Statements such as “I believe you,” “I’m sorry this happened to you,” and “Thank you for sharing this with me” can be a helpful way to show that you are there for the survivor in a nonjudgmental way. Don’t ask “Why” questions or ask for details. Let them know that you care about them, and avoid judgment.
  • Emphasize that it isn’t their fault: Sexual violence is never the fault of the survivor. Survivors often blame themselves for the incident; remind them that they are not to blame.
  • Respect their decisions: You can always offer options, but it is not helpful to pressure a survivor to report their experience, unless they are in immediate danger. Don’t pressure someone to “get over it.”
  • Be patient with them. Recovering from trauma is gradual and the survivor may need extra help and support during this time. There is not set amount of time it takes for a survivor to recover.
  • Be a supportive presence. Allow the survivor to decide if and when they want to talk about it. Just being there without any pressure or expectations of what to say or do is a huge help.
  • Know the resources: If you know someone who experienced sexual violence, it may be helpful to connect them with professional help. Don’t feel like you need to be their therapist or be responsible for their health.
  • Find your own support. We often experience strong reactions when someone we care about is hurt. Talk with someone about these reactions and engage in self-care to model healthy coping.
  • Counseling Center emergency services are available for those who have just experienced any sort of relationship or sexual violence and need help with next step
  • The Counseling Center offers a number of services geared toward helping those who have experienced trauma associated with sexual or relationship violence, including:
  • To begin any of these services, please first schedule a brief assessment. The Counseling Center is a confidential resource. As such, counselors are not required to report instances of sexual or relationship violence to the university.
  • CARE to Stop Violence office of the University Health Center offers free and confidential services for those who have experienced sexual or relationship violence. Services include:
    • Advocacy
    • Learning options related to reporting
    • Help accessing medical care and legal assistance
    • Academic support and other accommodations related to campus, housing, transportation, and finances
  • The CARE office has a 24-hour crisis cell phone: 301-741-3442. The CARE office is a confidential resource and exempt from UMD mandated reporting on sexual violence.
  • Campus chaplains of numerous different religious and spiritual backgrounds are available to provide support and guidance to survivors of sexual or relationship violence. Just like the Counseling Center and the University Health Center, chaplains are confidential resources and exempt from the rules of mandated Title IX reporting on campus.
  • The Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct (Title IX office) is available if you want to report an incident of sexual misconduct or relationship violence
  • Campus police are available 24/7 for anyone in immediate danger. If you are on campus you can call 9-1-1 or 301-405-3333 if you are experiencing an emergency. If you are not on campus, you can contact local police by dialing 9-1-1. You can also contact police to report any current or past criminal activity. UMD police also offers 24-hour escort service for anyone who feels unsafe walking alone on campus.

RAINN- The Nation’s Largest Anti-Sexual Violence Organization
Comprehensive information and resources regarding sexual violence 

Maryland Coalition against Sexual Assault
Resources in Maryland and Information for Survivors of Sexual Violence

Staying Safe on Campus
Tips from RAINN about ways to increase on-campus safety for college students
RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)


  • The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Bass and Davis
  • Victims No Longer: The Classic Guide for Men Recovering from Sexual Child Abuse by Lew
  • Recovering from Rape: Practical Advice on Overcoming the Trauma and Coping with Police, Hospitals, and the Courts, for the Survivors of Sexual Assault and their Families, Lovers and Friends by Ledray
  • The Body Keeps the Score by van der Kolk
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